|Writer and Activist Grace Paley|
Last Thursday, I had the opportunity to attend the screening of Lilly Rivlin’s documentary Grace Paley: Collected Shorts, as a part of Prof. Faye Moskowitz’s Jewish Literature Live course, which works to bring in Jewish authors to speak. The film tells the story of the life and work of Grace Paley, a Jewish American activist and short story writer.
Preceding the film, Rivlin, a GW alumna and director, said a few words. She explained that her motivation for making this film came from a “love of activism regarding social justice,” something that she shared with Paley. She then asked the audience to keep the question “What will the Jewish American writer look like in the future?” in mind while viewing the film.
With Rivlin’s intriguing question in the back of my mind, I was able to see the inspiration behind Paley’s works, as well about learn about her life. She was a writer, mother, and friend, but also a dedicated activist. She went to Vietnam in 1969 to protest the war, sat in during protests, and was arrested multiple times for her dedication to social activism. The film was a meld of perspectives, including personal interviews with Paley herself, photographs, interviews with friends, family members, and colleagues and quotes.
Although I’ve never read any of Paley’s works, through the film I was able to see that Paley’s writing was inspired by her experiences. Her characters were the people she saw on the streets of New York. Paley’s stories have been described as “urban and unusual,” as well as telling and true. Her inspiration for her writing proved to be very compelling for me, as I enjoy writing through experience as well.
Long after the compelling documentary, one phrase resonated with me at the end of the film. While interviewed during her last days, Paley states “Everyone, real or invented, deserves the open destiny of life.”