Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Reading with Ursula LeGuin

Yesterday I had the privilege of reading with Ursula LeGuin and Ted Chiang as part of the SFWA Reading Series organized by Mary Robinette Kowal and Mark Niemann-Ross. Jack and I took Amtrak to Portand, Oregon, a trip that began in the dingy King Street Station but rapidly improved to a comfortable train and some gorgeous scenery. Also a lot of backyards, which for me is one of the charms of train travel: you see behind the scenes of America. Mark met us, and we took a quick trip to Powell's, Portland's famous and enormous bookstore. I saw a minute fraction of it.

Dinner and the reading were at McMennamin's, once the Kennedy Elementary School but now a multi-purpose building. The hallways gave me the odd sense of having been sentenced back to the third grade, but not so the restaurant, bar, and auditorium. At dinner, counter-clockwise from lower right: the back of my head, Ursula LeGuin, Charles LeGuin, Mary Kowal, Mark Niemann-Ross, Ted Chiang. Jack Skillingstead took the picture. The second picture shows we three readers, lined up to perform.

Ted read a complete story, about an "automatic nanny," with some interesting things to say about the nature of children, machines, and human adaptability. I read part of "Eliot Wrote." Ursula read an essay on the current state of books and publishing, plus a poem about Las Vegas, both bleak. This led to the Q&A being mostly centered on e-publishing and very little on the art of writing, a phenomenon I have noted a lot in the last year whenever an audience asks questions. When I teach Clarion in a few weeks, I intend to reverse the emphasis.

For me, introducing and reading with Ursula was the culmination of a life-long love affair with her work. It was too difficult to resist gushing, so I didn't try to resist. I think I embarrassed her. But reading THE DISPOSSESSED when it came out was a seminal experience in my becoming a writer. Here were characters I could relate to, who did more than speed around the galaxy in space ships or solve scientific puzzles. They loved, suffered, had babies, screwed up friendships -- AND solved scientific puzzles. I have felt the same way about much of her other work, especially THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS and FOUR WAYS INTO FORGIVENESS
An evening I will never forget.


Monica Mansfield said...

Wow. I am so jealous. I love Ursula LeGuin.

Sounds like an amazing night!

Chris Köhler said...

Since your seminar on science fiction literature at Leipzig University I love Ursula's books. Back then we read The Disposessed and I'm grateful that you conveyed your own passion to your students. What I'm trying to say is that I'm very happy for you having read together with her. :)


Nancy Kress said...

Chris! How nice to hear from you. I hope all goes well in Leipzig.

Unknown said...

great job boos. You are really a good Writer and photo editor.Petter Joe