In Praise of Grace Paley

The iconic short story writer and essayist Grace Paley died yesterday at her home in Vermont. I have long been an admirer of her work, and have been such a disciple that my students over the years have probably become bored with the refrain, “If you want to learn how to write dialogue, read Grace Paley!”

I first read Paley in 1993, while living alone in a miserable little duplex in Knoxville, TN. I’d just accepted a job as a copywriter at an ad agency. I remember being snowed in during my first scheduled week of work, reading Paley on a set of Salvation Army sofa cushions I’d arranged on the floor as a bed. The crazy neighbors were screaming at each other, the snow was coming down, and I was bundled up in scarf, hat, and layers of sweats because I couldn’t afford to run the steam heat. That’s where I met Paley, in Little Disturbances of Man. I was mesmerized. Reading Paley was what taught me to write short stories. More on Paley in coming days…

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