Some thoughts on using audio in teaching Grace Paley’s Collected Stories


I’ve been thinking a lot about how best to present and sequence audio texts in relationship to print texts lately. I spent most of this afternoon segmenting a recording of Grace Paley reading from UMass so that I can play it for my students next week. I’m teaching her Collected Stories in a post WWII-present American Lit class.

We’re reading Little Disturbances of Men (1959) for Tuesday’s class, which is the first book in the Collected Stories. We have two weeks (4 classes) to deal with the whole Collected Stories.

I think I’m going to begin class by playing a more recent essay/story Travelling, which deals with issues surrouding race relations in 3 different time periods. At the beginning of “Travelling” Paley comments about the blurry line between fiction and nonfiction in her work, which I think will be helpful to address right away.

Noy Holland’s Intro to Paley is great. Actually I think I might play the intro after playing Travelling. Holland recounts a great comment about Paley’s character Faith, who bears some resemblance to Paley. When asked about her relationship to the fictional character, Paley said “Faith works for me.” I like how this articulates a seperation between author and character while acknowledging more than a trivial relationship between the two.

After talking about the line between fiction and nonfiction, I will probably play Inherit the War a 2 minute story that satirizes generational nostalgia for war. Neither of these stories is in the book.

I’m hoping that a discussion about audio files (which my students won’t have read on the page) will lead us into a deeper consideration of Paley’s early work.

There is a longer story, My Father Addresses Me On The Facts of Old Age, which is too long to play in class but might be a good thing to assign as listening homework.

When I assign audio listenings as homework, I like asking simple questions like “What (images, words, phrases, intonational patterns) did you remember from your listening?” and building a conversation from students’ individual impressions. There will probably be some talk about different tones, approaches, stylistic choices Paley makes between these pieces.

I tend to be hesitant to play very long recordings in class, as it feels like a time-killer to students. I also don’t want to use too much audio per class. I mostly teach poetry audio files, but I think these fiction recordings are pretty helpful. I’m curious about how they will respond to her voicing of the stories and her comments.

I have taught Paley’s story Living several times in creative writing classes. Students are often surprised by the audience laughter. Reading the piece on the page sometimes creates a darker, more somber sense of the story. I will play this piece after they read Living on the 3rd or 4th class. We can talk about the complexity of Paley’s tone via a conversation of the audience response. I tend to shy away from presenting audio versions of texts after students read print versions, but in this case, I think it’s o.k. I’m hoping it will be a good way of talking about the context of the live event in shaping the meaning of texts.

Anyway, I wanted to think through some issues related to sequencing and framing audio texts so they don’t instantly pin down the author or become a passive illustration of what students have already read.


2 Responses to “Some thoughts on using audio in teaching Grace Paley’s Collected Stories”

  1. You may be interested to know that there is a DOCUMENTARY video on GRACE PALEY.
    Grace was a dear friend for over 40 years, and this is our tribute to her, her life, her work.
    You may want to use this video as an additional teaching tool.

    For info and to see a trailer:

    Sonya Friedman

  2. Grace Paley is one of my favorite writers. Thanks for this post and link.

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