restricted access Grace Paley
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Grace Paley Grace Paley’s opening lines in her story “Wants” would always echo in my mind when I would see her walking up to me on Sixth Avenue, “Hello, my life.” I was a young writer then, residing in Milligan Place around the corner from Grace and her husband Robert Nichols’ apartment on Eleventh street. Donald Barthelme lived across the streetfromherbuilding.StanleyKunitz’stownhousewasablockaway. They’re all dead now. It was the early seventies and Milligan Place’s gate swung open freely back then. These days it is locked and one needs to be buzzed into the small, precious courtyard. The seventies were a good time in NewYorkCity,paradoxically,sincetherewasarecessiongoingon.The reverence for the rich hadn’t begun to fill the air yet. The rich were still there, but they weren’t preening about in the 1970s. That bred a certain kind of equality, one that began to disappear in the eighties. I had been told the three-story Milligan Place building that contained my one room apartment was once Theodore Dreiser’s house. The Village was always a literary place. I had just published my first book and its subject, if not the book itself, was a favorite of Grace’s; it was about the case of the “Harrisburg 7” – priests and nuns, anti-war activists, government oppression – all the usual topics that preoccupied her. 21 22 Jean Boudin had introduced us. I spent a lot of time with the Boudins, Leonard and Jean, during those years. They are gone, too. Often I would be standing outside the chichi grocery store next to Milligan Place on Sixth Avenue, where I had just bought a container of yogurt(mydinner)andGraceandRobertandIwouldchat.Ofcourse, then, none of this seemed as extraordinary as it does now. Grace was literal.Shewasgrace.GivenmyCatholicbackground,Iputmuchstock in grace, not “gracious living,” as it was called when I left the city to teach at Mount Holyoke, in South Hadley, Mass., but grace right out of the mysteries of the spirit, the lifting up, the filling up. Grace was especially kind to young writers; she herself was empty of bitterness and radiant with hope and good fortune to come and share. The last time I saw her was at her place in Vermont, in the company of Jean Boudin who was staying at the MacDowell Colony. I was about to leave Mount Holyoke and return to the Midwest to take a teaching job at Notre Dame when Jean and I visited. Departing, she wished me well, as she always had. My new novel wasn’t so much to her liking. The title, Idle Hands (hers were never idle), certainly gave a rather jaundiced portrait of the women’s movement of the seventies. Grace devoted so much of her life to making the worldbetter,thoughwhatIthoughtmoreremarkablewashowwellshe thought of it, letting no anger or disappointment sway her from her belief of the wonderfulness of the people who lived in it. First appeared in The Massachusetts Review, vol. XLIX, no. 4, Winter 2008; © 2008 The Massachusetts Review, Inc. ...


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