Tuesday, February 3, 2009
Thetford Remembers Grace
Hallie Zens, 9, of Thetford Center, writes a message on the blackboard at the Thetford Community Center during a letter-writing session held in memory of poet and activist Grace Paley, who was a longtime resident of Thetford. People attending the event wrote letters to state, federal and international leaders to express their opinions on topics including global warming, torture, nuclear proliferation and gay marriage.
Grace Paley was born December 11, 1922 in the Bronx and died August 22, 2007 in Thetford. This year, on what would have been her 86th birthday, people gathered at different places around the country to celebrate her life as an artist and activist. The following is an edited interview with her daughter, Nora Paley.
My mother believed in civil disobedience and non-violent resistance. She also believed in the simple power of writing letters and working as a community. She believed in action; she wanted people to step out of their comfort zones and stand up for what they thought was right. She always said it’s important for people to act on their beliefs and it’s important for them to not have to do it alone.
During the Vietnam War she was arrested a lot and put in jail. She said her political activity began with the P.T.O. when I was in elementary school, that she had been shy before that. For most of her life, she was responding to the world around her in a moral, ethical and really radical way.
A lot of people were touched by her in different ways in their lives. One woman who contacted me was in Austin, Texas. She had been a graduate student of Grace’s and she was just interested in doing something on her birthday. When Chrissie Robinson told me they were organizing this letter-writing event here in her memory, I thought, “Great,” because Grace was an activist all her life.
We’re trying to establish a legacy for my mother. It has three parts. One part is to have yearly readings of her work on her birthday. There’s a big reading in Boston, another one in New York, one in Portland, Ore., and I think two different things happening in Texas. The second part is to start a library of non-violent resistance, though we don’t have the money to do that yet. The last part is to give an award to a student or a teacher at a community college who’s living the spirit of Grace’s life, which would be an artist-activist who takes great pleasure in the world around them.
It’s nice for us, since we miss her, to have a community event like this to go to. I felt it was really important to bring my kids here so they could be around adults who don't feel victimized, who feel that they can do something to make a difference. Her memory is very much alive with her family, but it’s good to see that there are people that didn’t even know her who are interested in continuing the spirit of her life’s work.