Writer Grace Paley arrested at Vietnam protest
On March 19, 1970, writer and activist Grace Paley was arrested with 181 other individuals for protesting the Vietnam draft in an act of mass civil disobedience. It was neither the first nor the last time she would be arrested for social protest. Acclaimed for her short stories, Paley is also well known for her activism in a range of social causes.
Born in New York in 1922 to Ukrainian socialist parents, Paley was raised in a family committed to social change. Both her parents had been arrested in Ukraine for participating in workers' demonstrations. However, by the time Paley was born, they were comfortably middle-class thanks to her father's successful medical practice. Paley herself became involved in politics as an extension of her work with the Parent-Teacher Associations at her children's schools.
Beginning with local activism, Paley came to make connections between local and national and, increasingly, global concerns. In the 1960s, hers was a prominent voice in the feminist movement. In that decade and the next, she was also a key figure in the antiwar movement. The New York Times described her as the "stage director" of the 1970 New York City draft board protests. In 1978, she was arrested with three other writers for unfurling a banner reading "No Nuclear Weapons—No Nuclear Power—U.S. or U.S.S.R." on the White House lawn. She also made a series of controversial trips to North Vietnam (1969), Chile (1972), and the Soviet Union (1973). Her commitment to visiting world trouble spots to call for peace continued with visits to Nicaragua and El Salvador in 1985 and to Israel in 1987.
While engaged in public activism, Paley was also writing. Her first short story collection, Little Disturbances of Man, was published in 1959. A reviewer praised the volume for its "all-too-infrequent literary virtue—the comic vision." A second collection, Enormous Changes at the Last Minute, appeared in 1974. This collection was more explicitly political, containing stories about Vietnam protests, abused runaway teens, and a subway tragedy. Later the Same Day, Paley's third story collection, appeared in 1985. She has also published three volumes of poetry and a book of essays, articles, and lectures. In all her writing, political concerns are mixed with personal ones, as her characters and narrators struggle to work out both domestic and national power struggles and find their own roads to happiness.
Paley's work has received critical acclaim from the very beginning. After the success of Little Disturbances of Man, she won a Guggenheim Fellowship (1961) and a National Endowment for the Arts Award (1966). These were followed by a National Institute of Arts and Letters award for short story writing (1970) and a PEN/Faulkner Prize for fiction (1986). She taught for 22 years (1966-1988) at Sarah Lawrence College, and has also taught at Columbia, NYU, Syracuse University, and Dartmouth. Paley died in August 2007 at the age of 84.
To learn more about Grace Paley, visit We Remember and Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia.
Sources: Jewish Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia, pp. 1026-1029; New York Times, 19 April 1959, 20 March 1970, 2 February 1979, 19 April 1998; The Guardian (London), 30 October 2004; Jewish Women's Archive remembrance by Annelise Orleck, jwa.org/weremember/paley.