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Remembering Ursula K. Le Guin


Ursula K. Le Guin once wrote in her 2004 novel “Gifts”:

“Grieving … is a strange business; you have to learn how to do it. We seek company in mourning, but after the early bursts of tears, after the praises have been spoken, and the good days remembered, and the lament cried, and the grave closed, there is no company in grief. It is a burden borne alone.”

But she was not one to abandon her readers to despair. Le Guin suggests a way forward as she continues:

“How you bear it is up to you.”

Le Guin died in January, after 88 years of amazing novels, poems, lectures and other gifts she made to light our way.

Wednesday, June 13 at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall in Portland, Literary Arts will host a a star-studded Le Guin tribute, with remembrances from Margaret Atwood (via video), Jonathan Lethem, China Miéville and Daniel José Older. Fellow Oregonians Molly Gloss and Walidah Imarisha will speak, among others. Tickets are all spoken for, but a live webcast will carry the event around the globe. (Here’s the link to watch the event.) And the Eastern Oregon writers’ center Fishtrap plans a gathering for Le Guin fans at its headquarters in Enterprise that same night.

It’s been nearly six months since Le Guin’s death. While the loss hasn’t abated, we’ve had time to consider all she meant to readers. This week, we bring you a feast of conversations about her writing and life.


Le Guin's 88 years yielded dozens of books, and countless friendships across Oregon.

Le Guin’s 88 years yielded dozens of books, and countless friendships across Oregon.

Eileen Gunn/Courtesy of Ursula K. Le Guin

A Life in Letters — 1:20

Ursula Le Guin was a one-woman revolution in fiction and fantasy. She understood, perhaps better than anyone, what a difference genre can make. From her girlhood in the culturally rich hills of Berkeley, California, through long years of honing her craft, to international literary stardom.


Elisabeth Le Guin is a music professor at UCLA.

Elisabeth Le Guin is a music professor at UCLA.

A Conversation With Elisabeth Le Guin —9:15

The entire Le Guin family is woven throughout Oregon’s cultural fabric: Ursula’s husband Charles researched, wrote books and taught history for many years as a professor at Portland State University. Their younger daughter Caroline became a professor of English at Portland Community College. Their son Theo runs the cutting edge art gallery Upfor in downtown Portland.

And the eldest, Elisabeth Le Guin, is a professor of musicology at UCLA. She spoke with Aaron Scott in January about the creative atmosphere in the Le Guin home, and her memories of her mother’s writing life. A longer version of our interview can be found here.


Ursula K. Le Guin strenuously opposed book jacket art or film adaptations that sought to whtiewash or downplay the ethnicity of characters like Ged, the dark-skinned protagonist of "A Wizard of Earthsea".

Ursula K. Le Guin strenuously opposed book jacket art or film adaptations that sought to whtiewash or downplay the ethnicity of characters like Ged, the dark-skinned protagonist of “A Wizard of Earthsea”.

Courtesy of Puffin Books

The Face of A New World: Readers of Color On Le Guin — 18:15

Of all the readers and writers inspired by Ursula Le Guin over the years — and there are many — people of color have found some very specific touchstones in her work. We spoke with readers and writers for whom Le Guin’s novels represented not just windows to new worlds, but also a mirror to their own.


Cover art from Le Guin and Barton's collaboration

Cover art from Le Guin and Barton’s collaboration

Courtesy of Todd Barton

Composer Todd Barton on Music and Poetry of the Kesh — 24:00

Entry into Earthsea, Annares, Orsinia or other Le Guin realms means activating your imagination in new ways: You can feel the fabric of a wizard’s homespun robe, imagine the spires of an alien stronghold or hear the melodies of a lost civilization. For the 1985 novel “Always Coming Home,” Le Guin collaborated with composer Todd Barton to create poems and songs for an imagined post-apocalyptic indigenous Northern California people, the Kesh. Barton worked for 40 years as resident composer for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Find a longer version of his conversation with Dave Miller on “Think Out Loud” here.


Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin — 32:45

This weekend at a film festival in Sheffield, England, Bay Area filmmaker Arwen Curry will premiere her documentary film about Le Guin — a movie 10 years in production. We talk with her about her process and inviting the world into corners of  this very private writer’s Oregon world.

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