Book Notes: ‘Reader’ Brings Grace Paley Into Public Eye

  • Grace Paley at home in Thetford, Vt., on Nov. 19, 2005. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 6/2/2017 12:05:06 AM
Modified: 6/2/2017 12:05:15 AM

Were Grace Paley alive today, she’d probably have something pithy and heartening to say about current political affairs. In one of her final interviews, the noted writer and social activist said her dream for her grandchildren was “a world without militarism and racism and greed — and where women don’t have to fight for their place in the world.”

So much for that, one might say. But not Paley, who lived the second half of her life in Thetford; she was the eternal optimist, her daughter, Nora Paley, said.

Nora will lead a celebration of her mother’s life and work at the Norwich Bookstore on June 14. Though Paley died 10 years ago this August, her work remains as fresh as ever — and now, with the April release of A Grace Paley Reader: Stories, Essays, and Poetry ​from Farrar, Straus and Giroux, the highlights are collected in one place. Nora, who co-edited the Reader with her mother’s former teaching colleague, Kevin Bowen, will read from the collection and engage the audience in a conversation about Paley as both an artist and activist.

“For literary reasons alone, I would want to do this just to have her work read by a new generation of people,” Nora said. “But it obviously has a lot of confluence with our times, as well.”

Paley, born in 1922 to Russian Jewish immigrants in the Bronx, was a distinctive voice in American letters, spanning poetry, fiction and essays. She wrote with precision and wit, earning her such accolades as an O. Henry Award and a Guggenheim Fellowship. Her Collected Stories was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award.

In his introduction to the Reader, novelist George Saunders writes, “A writer like Paley comes along and brightens language up again, takes it aside and gives it a pep talk, sends it back renewed, so it can do its job, which is to wake us up.” She taught, among other places, at Columbia University in New York City and Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, N.Y., and served as vice president of the PEN American Center, which advocates for international freedom of expression.

But even as she made a name for herself as a writer and teacher, Paley regularly took to the streets: She led protests against the Vietnam War that, more than once, landed her in jail; she lobbied for women’s rights and against nuclear testing; she founded the activist group Women Strike for Peace. But, as The New Yorker’s Alexandra Schwartz wrote in a review of A Grace Paley Reader last month, “No one was more grimly adamant that the world was in mortal peril, or had more fun trying to save it from itself.”

After she moved to Thetford with her second husband, fellow writer Robert Nichols, she found more causes to which to devote herself. She joined liberal affinity groups and entrenched herself in her new community, Nora said. She drove up to Burlington — 84, undergoing chemotherapy and months away from her death — to protest the Iraq troop surge of 2007.

“I imagine if she were here now, she would be very excited about all the young people who are responding in a truthful and resolute way to our times,” Nora said. Black Lives Matter and the Dakota access pipeline are two issues “that would be very close to her heart,” she added.

And so, though the backdrops to Paley’s two homes appeared not to have very much in common, “in many ways she made them exactly the same,” Nora said.

Paley’s writing and activism were not mutually exclusive spheres of her life, either.

“I love her writing,” Nora said. “But in general, as her daughter who knew her in a more intimate way, I think that her courage and truthfulness, and really extreme love of life, is what was behind everything she ever did.”

Nora Paley and Kevin Bowen will read selections from A Grace Paley Reader at the Norwich Bookstore on June 14, as well as discuss and celebrate Paley’s life and work. The event’s organizers encourage those who knew Paley personally to share their memories of her. Copies of the book ($27) are available for purchase. The event, which starts at 7 p.m., is free, but reservations are recommended as space is limited. To reserve seats or learn more, contact the Norwich Bookstore at 802-649-1114 or

Author Events

This Sunday, M. Dickey Drysdale will read from and sign copies of his book, Vermont Moments, at the Seven Stars Arts Center in Sharon. The book contains 50 of Drysdale’s favorite stories that he wrote during his 45 years as editor and publisher of the Randolph Herald.

His wife, Marjorie Drysdale, will read from and sign copies of her memoir, Tagalong Kid, which recounts her experiences growing up with adventurous older brothers in upstate New York. The free event starts at 4 p.m., and refreshments will be served. For more information, contact the Seven Stars Arts Center at 802-763-2334 or

Norwich-based poet Pamela Harrison will read from and discuss her latest collection, Glory Bush and Green Banana, at the Quechee Public Library on Thursday.

The book is Harrison’s account of the service year her family spent in Carriacou, a small Carribbean island near Grenada, and was revised from an earlier, unpublished draft that Harrison penned in the mid-to-late 1980s, during and after her trip.

Chard deNiord, Vermont’s poet laureate, will join Harrison, reading from and discussing his own recent work. The event starts at 7 p.m., but the library invites attendees to arrive early for refreshments. Volumes of both Harrison’s and deNiord’s work are available for loan at the library, and may be purchased and signed at the event.

Hartland-based cartoonist James Sturm, who co-founded the Center for Cartoon Studies, will launch his new edition of his acclaimed graphic novel, The Golem’s Mighty Swing, at the June 10 Upper Valley Nighthawks baseball game at Maxfield Sports Center in White River Junction. The book, whose latest edition came out last month, is about a barnstorming Jewish baseball team during the Great Depression.

The event is organized by the Norwich Bookstore and starts at 6:30 p.m. on June 10. Organizers can arrange for Sturm to sign book copies for those who cannot attend the game. For more information, or to arrange for an autographed copy of Sturm’s book, contact the bookstore at 802-649-1114 or

Hanover-based author Frank J. Barrett will discuss Woodstock, Vermont, his new book on the history of the town, at the Woodstock History Center on June 11. Starting at 2 p.m., Barrett’s book launch coincides with the exhibit on “The History of the Green: Woodstock’s Central Park.” Copies of the book will be available for purchase and signing, and refreshments will be served. To learn more, contact the Woodstock History Center at or 802-457-1822.


Richards Free Library in Newport will host a Brown Bags and Books discussion of Postcards From the Edge, the first book written by the late Carrie Fisher. The comic novel, drawn from Fisher’s own life, follows a Hollywood starlet as she navigates a world of sex, drugs and fame, and was the basis for the 1990 Meryl Streep movie of the same name. Copies of the book are available for loan from the library. The discussion will start at noon on Tuesday. For more information, call Richards Free Library at 603-863-3430.

On Thursday, the Lebanon Public Library will host a discussion of The Wind Is Not a River, by Brian Payton. The novel, set in Alaska’s Aleutian Islands during the Japanese invasion in WWII, is about a war correspondent whose seaplane is shot down off the island of Attu. The discussion starts at 7 p.m. in the library’s all-purpose room. Copies of the book are available at the reference desk.

Howe Library in Hanover will host its monthly Books and Lunch on Tuesdays discussion on June 13. This month’s book is Nathalia Holt’s Rise of the Rocket Girls: The Women Who Propelled Us, From Missiles to the Moon to Mars. The nonfiction book tells the stories of women at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory who contributed to such missions as those of the Voyager and the Mars rovers, and explores issues of gender equality in rocket science. The discussion starts at noon in the Rotary Room at the Howe. Copies of the book are available at the library, and can be placed on hold through the Howe’s website. For more information, contact the Howe at 603-643-4120 or

Of Interest

This Sunday, Dartmouth College history professor Robert Bonner will present a “Histories of the Civil War” lectures at the Fells Historic Estate and Gardens in Newbury, N.H. In the lecture, Bonner will discuss the multitude of biographies and historical accounts that emerged in the aftermath of the Civil War, such as those of John Hay, Ulysses S. Grant and Frederick Douglass. The event is free and starts at 4 p.m. To learn more, contact The Fells at 603-763-4789.

Writer’s Night Out, part of the New Hampshire Writers’ Project, will take place at the Salt hill Pub in Lebanon on Monday. The event offers writers and aspiring writers the chance to discuss the industry and share work. The event is free, and starts at 7 p.m. To learn more, email Bill Cooper at

The Protisint’s Dilemma, which came out last year from Meriden-based writer Gerald R. Kozak, is available for purchase online and as an ebook. The book is named for the what the protagonist thought the word “Protestant” was as a child. The book is set in the Upper Valley, and tells the story of a reverend’s crisis of faith. For more information or to purchase the book, visit its page on Amazon.

Freelance writer and editor Polly Giantonio will lead a four-week workshop on the theme of “Naked Writing: The Soul’s Story,” over the next four Wednesday mornings at the Kilton Public Library in West Lebanon.

The workshop will meet at 10:30 next Wednesday and on June 14, 21 and 28. The fee is $100. To sign up and learn more, call 802-693-0015.

EmmaJean Holley can be reached at

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