The acclaimed writer, poet, feminist, and peace activist Grace Paley died on Wednesday in her home in Vermont at the age of 84 after a long struggle with breast cancer. As a writer, Paley is best known for her short stories examining the ordinary lives of women. Her Collected Stories, published in 1994, was a finalist for both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, and in 1993, she received the Rea Award, referred to as the Pulitzer Prize for short story writers, according to the Los Angeles Times. Paley also published several volumes of poems, and served as a poet laureate of Vermont and the first official New York State Writer. Paley’s most recent work is a collection of her and her husband Robert Nichols’ poems and short stories, published by the Feminist Press this year.
However, Paley was known as much for her political activism on behalf of peace and women’s rights as her literary accomplishments. Paley was jailed several times for her opposition to the Vietnam War, and traveled to Hanoi on a peace mission to negotiate for the release of American prisoners in 1969. She helped found the Women’s Pentagon Action and the Greenwich Village Peace Center. She was one of the “White House Eleven” arrested in 1978 for placing an anti-nuclear banner on the White House lawn. Most recently, she actively opposed the war in Iraq.
In 2003, she contributed an essay called “Why Peace is (More Than Ever) a Feminist Issue” to the anthology Sisterhood Is Forever, which was excerpted in Ms. magazine. Paley was also one of the original 53 signers of the 1972 petition in Ms. magazine of American women who had undergone abortions before the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade legalized the procedure. She again lent her name to the “We Had Abortions” petition published in the fall of 2006, to draw attention to the increasing restrictions being placed on the right to a safe, legal abortion, including the abortion ban that was eventually defeated in South Dakota.
Media Resources: Ms. magazine; Los Angeles Times 8/24/07; Democracy Now 8/24/07; New York Times 8/23/07
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