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.