I wanted to be a newspaper reporter,” Grace Schulman said. “My first job was with The Alexandria Gazette in Virginia in the 1950s. I covered the Supreme Court Integration decision. I was in the South, and I was the one covering stories from the police and federal court. I was one of the few women reporters at the time. I was alone in a newsroom with guys. It was kind of a rickety newsroom where you had to stand on line for a typewriter,” she recalled.
“When I came back to New York, I absolutely could not find a job with the newspapers. So, I started writing for magazines like Glamour,” she added.
An only child, Schulman was born in New York City to Marcella and Bernard Waldman in 1935. Her father was an immigrant from Poland and studied at University College in London. Her mother, an American, was schooled in Portugal. Schulman grew up in New York City on West 86th Street. Even as a child, Schulman enjoyed writing. She wrote her first poems when she was between six and seven years old. “My mother and father, especially my mother, always encouraged me,” she said. “My mother kept all my poems.”
She attended Bard College and earned her BA from American University in 1955 and a Ph.D. from New York University in 1971. It was in 1957 when Schulman met her future husband, Jerome. A physician and research scientist, he was from Brooklyn, born to Polish immigrant parents in 1927. Shulman remembers fondly when they first met.
“I was playing the guitar in Washington Square Park, and he came down to hear the music. We started talking. Two years later, we were married. But when he first asked me to marry him, I put him off for two years. Although I loved him very much, I wanted a career. I didn’t want to be cut off from my work. I was unsure. I needed time to think,” Schulman said.
“My father had just won a trip. He gave it to me and I went to Spain. I saw the sculptures, visited Barcelona and where Chopin lived. I was there for two weeks. When I came back, I told Jerry I was ready. We talked about our careers and he assured me and encouraged me. He thought I was silly to think he would prevent me from pursuing my dreams,” she said.
A poet, editor, and writer, Schulman said, “Although I continued to write, I just couldn’t work on newspapers and magazines anymore. I wanted to teach and write. I wrote letters to 20 to 30 places. I remember I was in London giving a poetry reading when I received a call from Baruch College. Jerry was so supportive. He met me at the airport and took me to the interview. We were dedicated to each other’s careers. I took the position with Baruch and have been a distinguished professor of English since 1973.”
In 1978, the Schulmans purchased a home in the Clearwater Beach area of Springs. Already an area abundant with artists and writers, East Hampton became their retreat and favorite place to enjoy the beauty of the natural areas surrounding the Gardiners Bay area. The couple were known by friends and neighbors to regularly go down to the beach to catch the sunset over the water.
During this time, Jerome continued his work as research scientist at Mount Sinai Hospital. His 45 years of research identified, characterized, and isolated various viral strains of influenza with the goal of the development of a universal vaccine. Grace continued her work as the poetry editor of the weekly magazine, The Nation. She held the position from 1972 to 2006, and also directed the 92nd Street Y Poetry Center from 1973 to 1985.
Having become a well renowned poet and writer, Schulman has published seven collections of her poetry and has many awards and recognitions. In 2016, she received the Frost Medal for Distinguished Lifetime Achievement in American Poetry, which was awarded by the Poetry Society of America. Other awards include the Aiken Taylor Award for poetry, the Delmore Schwartz Memorial Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, New York University’s Distinguished Alumni Award, and a Fellowship from the New York Foundation for the Arts. She has also won five Pushcart Prizes and has been featured seven times on Poetry Daily.
Her most recent book, which just hit the shelves this month, is a memoir, Strange Paradise: Portrait of a Marriage. According to Schulman, this book reflects on her life. Losing her husband to a long illness in the summer of 2016, she admits that she still struggles with the loss. “We loved each other with a great passion. I look back at the memories we made together,” she said.
One of her favorite memories, she says, was their honeymoon. “We were both working, but we took two weeks and walked all over Greece, Italy, France, England, and Ireland. We had a recorder and everywhere we went, we asked people to sing songs for us. They loved doing it. We have hours of recordings of the local songs from everywhere we went. It was a 75,000-mile dash. We’d get on a plane, go to the next place, take our backpacks, and walk some more. We were young and strong and had long legs,” she concluded with a smile.
If you would like to hear some of Schulman’s work, she will be doing a reading at Guild Hall in East Hampton on Sunday September 16, at 3 PM. In addition, she will be doing a book signing on September 29 at 5 PM at Canio’s Books in Sag Harbor.