Honorary Degree Recipient
Doctor of Humane Letters
Author and activist Grace Paley has had a substantial impact on social and literary culture for more than four decades. Her highly acclaimed collections of short fiction have won her readers’ hearts and secured her place as one of America’s most accomplished writers. United by her signature interweaving of personal and political truths, her stories also exhibit an extraordinary capacity for empathy and pointed, funny depictions of the small and large events that make up life. Her first collection, The Little Disturbances of Man (1959), established her reputation as a writer with a remarkably supple gift for language. She wrote two more greatly lauded volumes of short fiction: Enormous Changes at the Last Minute (1974), and Later the Same Day (1985), as well as three collections of poetry.
Paley began teaching in the early 1960s at Columbia and Syracuse universities, then became a faculty member at Sarah Lawrence College and taught at City College in New York. Born in the Bronx and raised in New York, she was named by former Gov. Mario Cuomo as the first official New York State writer. For many years, she divided her time between New York and Vermont, and now resides in Thetford.
She received a Guggenheim Fellowship in fiction in 1961, and in 1987 was awarded a Senior Fellowship by the National Endowment for the Arts, in recognition of her lifetime contribution to literature. Her Collected Stories was nominated for the National Book Award in 1994.
Popular and respected by teachers of writing, Paley’s stories are often used as models in writing workshops. In 1997, she participated in the University of Vermont’s Summer Writing Program, and she has lectured on campus at other occasions.
Paley also has devoted much of her life to anti-war, feminist and anti-nuclear movements. She opposed American involvement in Vietnam, served as secretary of the Greenwich Village Peace Center and spent time in jail for her antiwar activities. She participated in peace missions to Hanoi and Moscow, and was among “The White House Eleven” who in December 1978 were arrested for unfurling an anti-nuclear banner on the White House lawn. Paley also visited Nicaragua and Salvador after campaigning against the U.S. government’s policies toward those countries.
In 2003, Paley was appointed Vermont State Poet, a post she will occupy for four years. Among the letters nominating her for this honor, one described her as “a beloved figure among writers and readers alike…who draws everyone into her wake with her humor, lack of egotism and down to earth manner.” Vermont is fortunate to have Paley as the state’s advocate for poetry and literature.