Beloved for her short stories and poetry by writers from W.H. Auden to A.S. Byatt to Ali Smith, Grace Paley was profiled by Melissa Denes in the weekend’s Guardian. Denes reveals that Paley has been seriously ill after undergoing readiation for breast cancer earlier this year, but now she’s back at work.
The profile discloses the details of Paley’s consultation, at 17, with Auden about her poetry:
She was taking a night class at the New School for Social Research in Manhattan, where Auden was then teaching, and she was “crazy” about his work. They met in a nearby cafe, where he read through a handful of poems and then asked: “But do you really use these words, Grace?” Which words, she asked. “Well, ‘subaltern’, for instance.” Yes, she lied, sometimes. “And ‘trousers’, not pants?” Oh yeah, she said, we say trousers, too. Auden was friendly enough, even encouraging, but Paley went away feeling embarrassed. She had learned her her first lesson as a writer: don’t imitate (they both knew she’d been trying to write “in British”); find your own voice; above all, be truthful.
Paley is also a feminist and anti-war activist. She’s been arrested several times for civil disobedience.