I’m reading the newly released A Grace Paley Reader, which was just released by FSG. Wow.
You know how you think you know a lot about an author you admire, and then you find out you didn’t really know jack? Enormous Changes at the Last Minute and Little Disturbances of Man hit me hard in my 20s. I can’t remember a single plot line, but I still carry those books in my heart. Through her characters’ every day lives, she reached out to say, yes—I know how you are feeling. You are not alone. This is just a part of what it means to be human. You will be scarred, but not broken.
I knew she was a fierce West Village activist in her day. I pictured a little old grey haired lady handing out flyers on the corner of 6th Avenue and Waverly.
But now that I have read (maybe re-read? Signs of my own grey haired lady-ness creeping in) her essays, I realize how profound and powerful her voice was at the time. She was a brilliant, badass woman who saw the world through a clear, fierce, feminist lens, and forever changed the world for the rest of us.
In Illegal Days, she shares her own experience of getting an illegal abortion. It’s one of the best essays I have ever read about abortion. She puts the fight to control our lives, our bodies, and our sexual choices into historical context and makes an eloquent, irrefutable case for abortion rights.
If you want to read about some of the women whose shoulders we stand on, read Six Days: Some Remembering, The Seneca Stories: Tales from the Women’s Peace Encampment, and Of Poetry and Women in the World.
Grace Paley’s work reminds us that while the Women’s March was a great day, the real work happens every day—in poetry, in essays, in jail cells, on courthouse steps, and on corners like 6th Avenue and Waverly Place.