Subscribe to Granta today

Saving Grace


This week on the Granta blog, we close the online edition of The F Word with one last feature on feminist bibles. Yuka Igarashi considers Grace Paley’s short stories and the relationship between art and activism.

When I moved across the Atlantic from New York to London last year, I brought my bike, my rice cooker and one paperback: The Collected Stories of Grace Paley.

This book is the closest thing to a bible I’ll ever have. I keep it at my desk, as if it were a reference text; I thumb through it for quotes, for inspiration, for comfort; I rely on it to calibrate my worldview; it remains my touchstone for good prose.

For many decades, Paley was a vocal feminist and pacifist. She organized pro-choice rallies, demonstrated against the Vietnam War and was once arrested for unfurling an anti-nuclear banner (‘No Nuclear War – No Nuclear Power – US and USSR’) on the White House lawn.

By her own account, social action was the central project of Paley’s life. When the Paris Review asked her why she had written so little in her lifetime (she published three slim volumes of stories as well as some collections of poetry and essays), she told them that ‘art is too long and life is too short.’ There were a lot of things to do besides writing.

But before she was an activist, Grace Paley was a wife and mother, spending her days in the small apartments and neighbourhood playgrounds of New York. And it was this life she chronicled when she began to write in the fifties. Her stories from this time are manifestly domestic: brief, sad, funny portraits of harassed women, neglected wives, exhausted mothers. One of her best-known pieces is about a woman returning a library book. Another one begins with a husband buying his wife a broom.

In Paley’s life and work, you can see a neat trajectory from art to activism, from the private to the public. Her stories showed that ‘everyday life, kitchen life, children life’ (as she herself puts it in the introduction to her collection) could be literature. She found this voice at precisely the right moment to ride feminism’s second wave – and then she turned from home toward politics.

There’s only one thing that complicates this satisfying story, and it’s that the brooms are better. As much as I admire Paley the political figure, the Paley I come back to time and again is Paley the writer. Not only that, it’s the one who wrote while still at home, trapped in her circumstances, conflicted and droll and resigned. Here’s a passage from the broom story, ‘An Interest in Life’:

Happiness isn’t so bad for a woman. She gets fatter, she gets older, she could lie down, nuzzling a regiment of men and little kids, she could just die of the pleasure.

And here’s one from ‘Wants’, in which the narrator meets her ex-husband in the street on her way to return a library book:

Hello, my life, I said. We had once been married for twenty-
seven years, so I felt justified.
He said, What? What life? No life of mine.
I said O.K. I don’t argue when there’s real disagreement.

Neither of these can be mistaken for feminist rallying cries, but both have helped me know myself and understand the world in a way that a manifesto can’t. Life is short; art is long. ■


Also on The F Word Online:

Granta Audio, The F Word in Norwich: Maja Hrgović, Urvashi Butalia and A.S. Byatt reading for The F Word and Norwich Wriers’ Centre.

‘Poor women bear the brunt of the difficulties Haitian women face’: an interview with Edwidge Danticat.

‘The End of the Discussion’: Some tender last words from Patrick Ryan’s Aunt Sue.

Subscribe to Granta magazine today.
Granta 115: The F Word

Comments (25)

You need to create an account or log in to comment.

  1. Sinibaldi

    Tue Jul 12 16:28:34 BST 2011

    La juventud de la palidez.

    El sol duerme
    en la eternidad
    de un cielo
    cristalino como
    un grupo de
    rosas que recuerda
    silente la voz
    de la vida.

    Francesco Sinibaldi

  2. alexgord88

    Thu Nov 14 09:56:16 GMT 2013

    I will do it like you said, it is a good alternative.

  3. king2

    Tue Apr 15 07:26:35 BST 2014

    I will definitely dig it and personally recommend to my friends about this article please check out my video at motorola moto g buy online at

  4. king2

    Tue Apr 15 07:26:24 BST 2014

    Incredible points. Sound arguments. Keep up the amazing work Gaming Jobs , video game tester jobs ,

  5. blogger371

    Sun Jan 12 03:26:28 GMT 2014

    browsing mau liat kumpulan link dan feed di sini

  6. Jennas

    Sun Dec 15 17:21:35 GMT 2013

    The most obvious function of clothing is to improve the comfort of the wearer, by protecting the wearer from the elements.

  7. belly

    Wed Apr 09 08:00:32 BST 2014

    Thanks for your great article friend, i get new information, new ideas to do somethings venus factor review ,apple cider vinegar weight loss at

  8. Allie

    Tue Dec 31 11:11:15 GMT 2013

    This guide is the nearest factor to a holy bible I’ll ever have. I keep it at my table, as if it were a referrals text; I thumbs through it for quotations, for motivation, for comfort; I depend on it to adjust my worldview; it continues to be my touchstone for excellent writing.

  9. blogger371

    Mon Jan 06 05:51:20 GMT 2014

    bagaimana dengan memiliki tubuh langsing, di era sekarang ini banyak sekali obat pelangsing yang beredar seperti produk abc acai berry dan meizitang produk meizitang dan abc acai berry sudah sangat terkenal di pasaran

  10. samhadi

    Mon Jan 06 14:30:26 GMT 2014

    keep it at my table, as if it were a referrals text; I thumbs through it for quotations, for motivation, for comfort; I depend on it to adjust my worldview; it continues to be my touchstone for

  11. krunal

    Wed Mar 26 07:38:25 GMT 2014

    Finally, an issue that I am passionate about. I have looked for information of this caliber for the last several hours fast flirting , the tao of badass review , the tao of badass pdf at

  12. mariya

    Sat Apr 12 11:13:33 BST 2014

    Hey, appreciate it for taking the effort to do this. I like your webpage, although it took a sluggish reader like me some time to via throughout entire page and the many comments.

  13. Dewa Poker

    Fri Jan 17 15:45:13 GMT 2014

    Great info about antarctic campaign !There testament be an overview of the drive plus a debut of repercussions by task divisions, followed by a Cabaret beside scientists, where you can obtain to apprehend outdo the entrants in the Antarctic Crusade. Dewa Poker Permainan Poker Poker Online Game Poker Poker Online Indonesia Agen Poker Poker Uang Asli Agen Poker Online Cara Bermain Poker

  14. blogger371

    Tue Mar 18 05:47:40 GMT 2014