‘A Conversation With My Father’ by Grace Paley

Allan Gurganus read this story aloud to his graduate fiction workshop in the fall of 1988, and because I read It Had Wings, I was there to hear it. Some lines resound in his voice, in my memory. A woman visits her father in the hospital; he asks her for a story. She tells it twice. How to explain the worlds contain herein? The jokes, the disappointments between generations, the imaginary literary magazines, the deep humanity that is everywhere in Paley. Certain turns of phrase in this story have become part of my vocabulary. My favorite Paley story is actually ‘Gloomy Tune’, but it’s so deeply peculiar – an inexplicable short story, in its way – that if you hated it I would understand, and I would also never forgive you. Only a fool wouldn’t love ‘A Conversation With My Father,’ though it, too, is mysterious.

First published in the New American Review, 1972. Collected in Enormous Changes at the Last Minute, 1974, FSG, and Collected Stories, FSG/Virago, 1994. Hear Ali Smith read it on the Guardian podcast here

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