Photo of the Day: Night at the East River

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Grace Paley, Celebrated Writer and Social Activist, Dies at 84

Grace Paley, Thetford Hill, Vermont

Grace Paley (megaphone) and Gloria Steinem (center)

Demonstrating for the Women of Iran, Who Demanded Their Rights in the 1979 Revolution

Margalit Fox reported the death of Grace Paley, renowned writer and social activist, in today’s edition of The New York Times:

“Grace Paley, the celebrated writer and social activist whose short stories explored in precise, pungent and tragicomic style the struggles of ordinary women muddling through everyday lives, died on Wednesday at her home in Thetford Hill, Vt. She was 84 and also had an apartment in Manhattan.

Ms. Paley had been ill with breast cancer for some time, her literary agent, Elaine Markson, said yesterday.

Ms. Paley’s output was modest, some four dozen stories in three volumes: “The Little Disturbances of Man” (Doubleday, 1959); “Enormous Changes at the Last Minute” (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1974); and “Later the Same Day” (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1985). But she attracted a devoted following and was widely praised by critics for her pitch-perfect dialogue, which managed at once to be surgically spare and almost unimaginably rich.

Her “Collected Stories,” published by Farrar, Straus in 1994, was a finalist for both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. (The collection was reissued by Farrar, Straus this year.) From 1986 to 1988, Ms. Paley was New York’s first official state author; she was also a past poet laureate of Vermont.

Ms. Paley was among the earliest American writers to explore the lives of women — mostly Jewish, mostly New Yorkers — in all their dailiness. She focused especially on single mothers, whose days were an exquisite mix of sexual yearning and pulverizing fatigue. In a sense, her work was about what happened to the women that Roth and Bellow and Malamud’s men had loved and left behind.

To read Ms. Paley’s fiction is to be awash in the shouts and murmurs of secular Yiddishkeit, with its wild onrushing joy and twilight melancholy. For her, cadence and character went hand in hand: her stories are marked by their minute attention to language, with its tonal rise and fall, hairpin rhetorical reversals and capacity for delicious hyperbolic understatement. Her stories, many of which are written in the first person and seem to start in mid-conversation, beg to be read aloud.

Some critics found Ms. Paley’s stories short on plot, and in fact much of what happens is that nothing much happens. Affairs begin, babies are born, affairs end. Mothers gather in the park. But that was the point. In Ms. Paley’s best stories, the language is so immediate, the characters so authentic, that the text is propelled by an innate urgency — the kind that makes readers ask, “And then what happened?

Open Ms. Paley’s first collection, “The Little Disturbances of Man,” to the first story, “Goodbye and Good Luck”:

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. From this no one is excused. Only a person like your mama stands on one foot, she don’t notice how big her behind is getting and sings in the canary’s ear for thirty years. Who’s listening? Papa’s in the shop. You and Seymour, thinking about yourself. So she waits in a spotless kitchen for a kind word and thinks — poor Rosie. …

Poor Rosie! If there was more life in my little sister, she would know my heart is a regular college of feelings and there is such information between my corset and me that her whole married life is a kindergarten.”


Interested readers can access the full version of The New York Times article here.

The Washington Post published a detailed article today about Grace Paley’s death, which interested readers can access here.

Grace Paley: The 2007 Robert Lowell Memorial Lecture

In the video above, Grace Paley reads from her short fiction and poetry. Paley gave the Robert Lowell Memorial Lecture: Celebrating the Legacy of Room 222 in April 2007. In the 1950s, visiting lecturer Robert Lowell taught poets Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, and George Starbuck, among others, in Room 222 at 236 Bay State Road (Boston University). Paley is introduced by Robert Pinsky, a College of Arts and Sciences professor of English and three-time U.S. poet laureate.

Paley is known for her short fiction, her poems, and her political activism. She was the author of three books of short fiction: The Little Disturbances of Man, Enormous Changes at the Last Minute, and Later the Same Day. A compilation of her previously published work, The Collected Stories, was reprinted this spring. She published three books of poetry, Leaning Forward, New and Collected Poems, and Begin Again: Collected Poems, and a book of short stories and poetry, Long Walks and Intimate Talk.

She received the Edith Wharton Award, the Rea Award for the Short Story, the Vermont Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts, and the Jewish Cultural Achievement Award for Literary Arts. She was a member of the National Academy of Arts and Letters and was named New York state’s first official writer.

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Matt Drudge Continues to Put the Yellow Back in Journalism

Matt Drudge, the GOP Toy 

Another View of Drudge

Drudge Set to Promote Obama-Clinton WWE Jello-Wrestling Bout

The Columbia Journalism Review comments on Matt Drudge’s intentionally poisonous effects on journalism, and in particular upon campaign reporting:

“Thank you, Matt Drudge, for providing us all with a brief respite from what might have otherwise been yet another ho-hum August day of campaign reporting.  Because who cares what candidates are saying about Iraq or Cuba or assault rifles when “OBAMA WIFE SLAMS HILLARY?” (as Drudge casually wondered aloud across the top of his web site yesterday morning).  Cat fight!

Drudge linked his teaser to a Chicago Sun-Times column in which a line from a recent Michelle Obama stump speech—”…if you can’t run your own house, you can’t run the White House”—was referenced sans context along with the suggestion (Drudge bait!) by columnist Jennifer Hunter that it “could be interpreted as a swipe at Hillary Clinton.”  Drudge linked.  Bloggers dissected.  And predictably, Drudge soon saw his all-caps question mirrored back at him from television screens tuned to network and cable news.  Some examples:

“MRS. OBAMA ATTACK?” — CNN’s American Morning this morning

“FAMILY VALUES: Did Obama’s Wife Slam Clinton?” — NBC’s Today Show this morning

“MRS. OBAMA AIMS AT SEN. CLINTON?” and “MRS. OBAMA VS. SEN. CLINTON: Cheap shot or fair territory?” — Fox News’ Fox & Friends this morning

No matter that Mrs. Obama’s “if you can’t run your own house” line could also be “interpreted” in other, less “newsworthy” ways, particularly when read in context (she was talking, as she has before on the stump, about her own family’s efforts to balance work and family time).  No matter that Barack Obama told reporters (when asked on a conference call yesterday morning) that his wife was not referring to Clinton.  Once flagged by Drudge, the Sun-Times’ suggested “interpretation”—them’s fightin’ words!—was the one that ricocheted around the media echo chamber.”

Interested readers can access the full Columbia Journalism Review article here.

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My Articles for Wednesday, August 22, 2007

“Photo of the Day: The Cakeshop Bar.” This photograph is a beautiful, colorful picture of the shimmering evening lights inside the unique Cakeshop-Bar located on Ludlow Street, on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. The photograph is presented here in stunning high-resolution.

[tags: Photo of the Day, Photograph of the Day, New York City, Lower East Side, photograph, photos]

“Politically Erect: Sodomobile ’s “Over-Sized Load” of Freedom Riders Terrorize Homophobes.” This posting revisits director Michael Moore’s classic spoof deriding homophobia as his Sodomobile travels through the Bible Belt, specifically targeting the Reverend Fred Phelp’s anti-gay church in Kansas. Photograph and hilarious video are included.

[tags: Sodomobile, gay, gay rights, Michael Moore, Fred Phelps, celebrities, YouTube]

See the Rest of My Articles at Blue Dot

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Photo of the Day: The Cakeshop Bar

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