Home Lit

Grace Paley, noted craftswoman of the short story and essay, will give a free public reading at the Charline McCombs Empire Theatre on Thursday, February 19. Paley is in town for Gemini Ink's Spring 2004 Autograph Series, which includes a luncheon benefit and a fiction class on Friday.

The midwife of the American short story visits SA

"I like reading `publicly` because I really believe in storytelling," says writer Grace Paley. A master of the short story form, she will visit San Antonio February 19 and 20 as the title guest for Gemini Ink's Spring Autograph Series.

"The short story is undergoing a resurgence, and she has done more to define it and refine it than anyone else working in the form," says Gemini Ink Executive Director, Rosemary Catacalos, who invited Paley to town.

As a native New Yorker, Paley's stories reflect Jewish New York and the lives of women and families. But one need not be from New York, nor be Jewish or female for that matter, to enjoy her work. Paley famously said that, "Two ears, one for literature, one for home, are useful for writers." Similarly, she has referred to her profession as "the Writing and Mother Trade." Indeed, she balances both identities by creating solid stories out of domestic situations. Many of her stories are finely crafted dramatic monologues that make the reader feel as though he or she is sitting at the kitchen table chatting with one of the writer's recognizable, everyday characters.

In "Goodbye and Good Luck," the first tale in The Collected Stories, Aunt Rose, the story's protagonist, makes a subtle, yet unforgettable entrance: "I was popular in certain circles," says Aunt Rose. "I wasn't no thinner then, only more stationary in the flesh. In time to come, Lillie, don't be surprised, change is a fact of God."

Paley, who was born in the Bronx in 1922, has been publishing since the mid-'50s. Her collections include The Collected Stories (1994), which was nominated for the National Book Award, two books of poetry, a collection of poetry and prose pieces, Long Walks and Intimate Talks (1991), and a collection of essays, Just As I Thought (1998).

Grace Paley

Thursday, February 19
Charline McCombs
Empire Theatre
226 N. St. Mary's

Luncheon Benefit
Featuring Grace Paley

Friday, February 20
Bright Shawl
819 Augusta

If Paley has not been notably prolific during her 45 years as a writer, it is because her interest in interacting with people is as great, if not greater, than her dedication to creating literature. Her career as a short story writer and poet has often competed with her life as an activist. Involved in the anti-war and feminist movements, she regards herself as a "somewhat combative pacifist and cooperative anarchist."

During some of the more conflict-ridden decades of the second half of the 20th century, Paley has turned to activism, rather than writing, to contribute to society. In his article "All Trees Are Oak Trees ..." (Poets & Writers, January/February 2004), writer John Barth tells of a time he introduced Paley at a reading during the Vietnam War. A student asked Paley "how she managed to get any writing done amid her tireless antiwar protesting and occasional consequent jail-time serving," to which she answered: "Art isn't important. People are important; politics is important."

The Gemini Ink Master Class that Paley will lead will give local writers a unique opportunity to discuss the short story with an author who has practiced the form for a half century. Paley, who has taught creative writing for 20 years, believes everyone can gain something from a writing group. "It's a funny thing. People never say to a history teacher, 'Can history be taught?' because they never imagine that the student will become a great historian," she says. "If people have drive, they learn more than writing. They learn how to keep going. And they learn how literature is written, so even if they don't want to do it in the end, they have learned something about literature."

Paley is also optimistic about the state of contemporary literature: "A lot of people think literature's over. It's not true. Us old timers, we had our time. Many of us were lucky. Now it's a new time." •

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