Grace Paley (1922–2007)
From American Christmas Stories
Grace Paley was born 100 years ago, on December 11, 1922.
In a book-length study of Paley’s short fiction, Neil D. Isaacs surveys her 44 stories and reveals a woman with nine lives: “as mother, wife, daughter, sister, that is, as family person intimately involved within and across generations; as poet; as antiwar activist; as short story writer; as antinuclear activist and environmentalist; as teacher; as neighborhood organizer and agitator; as feminist; and as friend to those whose lives interact with hers in these several spheres…. Perhaps the greatest accomplishment of Paley the writer is that her stories, taken as a whole, encompass all those lives.”
Mostly set in the Bronx or Greenwich Village, Paley’s stories make up “a body of work the expansiveness of which is at odds with its parochial setting and recurrent themes,” one British critic recently remarked. They were written over a period of thirty years, from 1955 to 1985. During her last two decades, she turned her attention to poetry and the occasional essay. When asked to explain the length of the time between her books and her reluctance to write a novel, she would respond, “Art is too long, and life is too short. There’s a lot more to do in life than just writing.”
In celebration of her centennial, we present one of her most popular tales, “The Loudest Voice.” In a predominately Jewish neighborhood in the early 1930s, Shirley Abramowitz has been unexpectedly chosen to be the narrator of her school’s Christmas play. From the comedy that follows, she emerges triumphant, with her voice intact.