Hall Center For The Humanities


Grace Paley

"The Teller and the Listener"
Humanities Lecture Series

Thu., Apr. 3, 1997, 12:00am
Grace Paley, credited by Newsweek's Walter Clemons as "one of the best writers alive," presented the Horowitz lecture for 1997. The daughter of Russian immigrants who arived in New York around the turn of the century, Paley was born in the Bronx in 1922. Raised in a bilingual home (her parents spoke Yiddish and English), Paley matured in the midst of sharp contrasts between old world Russia and new world America. She attended public schools in New York and studied at Hunter College and New York University, where she developed her distinctive literary style; her short stories are marked by her Russian/Jewish heritage as well as her perception of New York street life. Susan Sontag has written about her: "She is that rare kind of writer, a natural with a voice like no one else's: funny, sad, lean, modest, energetic, acute. Like the great modern Russian writers she demonstrates a possible unity of the art of consciousness and the naturalness of conscience."

Grace Paley's short stories have appeared in The New Yorker and The Atlantic Monthly, among other publications. Her highly acclaimed collections of stories include The Little Distubances of Man (1959), Enormous Changes at the Last Minute (1974), and Later the Same Day (1985). Paley's The Collected Stories, with an introduction by the author, was published on April 12, 1994. Michael Wood, of the New York Review of Books has described Paley's stories as "a whole small country of damaged, fragile, haunted citizens." Rather than action, Paley relies on conversation to establish character, reproducing Jewish, Black, Irish, and other dialects with accuracy.

Paley has taught at Columbia University, Sarah Lawrence, Dartmouth, and City College, and is a popular lecturer and workshop leader at colleges and universities. Included among her awards and honors are the 1994 Jewish Cultural Achievement Award, Literary Arts (given by The National Endowment for Jewish Culture); and the Edith Wharton Award. In 1989, she was also honored at a ceremony in Albany by Governor Mario Cuomo, who declared her the first official New York State Writer. An ardent feminist, Paley claims she is frequently distracted from writing due to political causes and thus, has never finished a novel: "Art is too long and life is too short. There is a lot more to do in life than just writing."

April 3, 1997
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