“Fiction results from imagination working on experience. We shape experience in our minds so that it makes sense. We force the world to be coherent, to tell us a story.”

On this episode of “Literary Arts: The Archive Project”, we remember author Ursula K. Le Guin who died this week at the age of 88. At this appearance in Portland, Le Guin opened with the question, “Where do you get your ideas from?” and replies with her favorite response from Harlan Ellison: “He says he gets his ideas from a mail-order house in Schenectady.” Le Guin goes on to seriously address the question, because “unanswerable questions are just what fiction writers like to answer.” She discusses the process of all artists’ work, of the connection between experience and imagination, and the tendency for Americans to prefer realism in their novels and to put genre fiction in the literary ghetto. She warns against the dismissal of fantasy: “People who deny the existence of dragons are often eaten by dragons. From within.” She goes on to explain the importance of reading and how this virtual experience not only feeds writers’ imaginations, but is also a wholly different experience than viewing stories onscreen. She ends with a profound meditation on the nature of rhythm in the world and the way art breaks down barriers between people. This lecture is transcribed in the Literary Arts anthology, The World Split Open (Tin House, 2014).


Ursula Kroeber Le Guin was born in 1929 in Berkeley and lives in Portland, Oregon. As of 2013, she has published 21 novels, 11 volumes of short stories, four collections of essays, 12 books for children, six volumes of poetry and four of translation, and has received many honors and awards including the Hugo, Nebula, National Book Award, and PEN-Malamud. Her most recent publications are Finding My Elegy: New and Selected Poems, 1960-2010 and The Unreal and the Real: Selected Short Stories, which received the 2012 Oregon Book Award for Fiction. (from www.ursulakleguin.com)