It’s almost too much, losing Tillie Olsen and Grace Paley in the same year. Both women were part of a group of writers popularized during the 1970s’ Womens Liberation Movement. If feminists had a bible, it was comprised, at the beginning, of the work of a dozen or so novelists, poets and theorists whose books we devoured, discussed and revered. Grace Paley and Tillie Olsen were among this group.
Paley, like Olsen, wasn’t terribly prolific–like Olsen, she devoted a good deal of her time to political activism. And what she lacked in breadth she more than made up for in depth. Her material was the stuff of everyday life–mothers and children, conversations in the park, women and men, and the grassroots politics of the people. My favorite short story of all time is A Subject of Childhood in
The Little Disturbances of Man, anthologized again in a later collection. That story has the best last line, bar none, in the history of the short story. Paley’s books also had the best titles: Enormous Changes at the Last Minute; Later the Same Day.
Paley was the Poet Laureate of Vermont, where she lived in her later years. She was 84 when she died.
- Maxine Hong Kingston: Singing along with Whitman (guardian.co.uk)