The Paris Review

Francine du Plessix Gray and Sorrel Soup

By her own account, writing wasn’t easy for Francine du Plessix Gray, who died last Sunday at the age of eighty-eight. As she told Regina Weinreich in her 1987 Art of Fiction interview, “I’ve always had a terrifically painful ambivalence of love and terror towards the act of writing.” But this doesn’t come through in her fearless books, such as the novel Lovers and Tyrants, a semiautobiographical account of her childhood, and Them, an unsparing look at her tyrannical parents. She was born in 1930 at the French embassy in Warsaw, but after her father died in 1940, Gray and her mother emigrated to America. Gray arrived in the country knowing not a lick of English; fourteen months later, she won the school spelling bee. Gray thrived in tense situations—she studied under the poet Charles Olson, whom sheNew Yorker

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