Today (or technically yesterday) I had the honor of hearing Ursula K. Le Guin speak at the local library. She was absolutely delightful, sharp, wise, funny – everything you’d expect.
My only regret was that there was no opportunity to speak with her afterwards. Not that I blame her; a book signing or meet-and-greet would have taken the entire day. As she fully deserved, the place was standing-room-only, fire-code-breaking PACKED. I was twenty minutes early and ended up perched on a window sill in the back corner.
Since she was here as part of the Fahrenheit 451 Big Read, she started by discussing censorship and reading a bit from her book The Telling, which includes both a theocratic society that has destroyed all secular literature and a capitalist society that has destroyed all religious literature – a powerful argument for how any belief or nonbelief can become destructive ignorance.
The host asked a few questions and then opened the floor for additional questions. Le Guin had some really thoughtful answers about censorship, the American political climate and its dangerous blurring of church and state, and the problematic side of literary awards. She also had some amazing one-liners:
What drew you to science fiction even as a young writer? I just have a weird mind, I’m afraid.
Do you feel like more of an actor or more of a watcher when you’re writing your stories? No, I’m a listener.
Her favorite comment from a student defending Lathe of Heaven when his school wanted to censor it: "I thought this book was really stupid. But I wanted to decide that for myself."
On the companies that convinced her to sell the film rights of some of her novels: They tricked me.
You were born in California but later moved to Portland. What do you like best about living in Oregon? [Chuckles.] “The rain.”
The host announced that we only had time for one more question. The two friends who happened to be next at the microphone didn’t actually have a question at all. They wanted to present Le Guin with a collection of tribute poetry and thank her for being one of the patron saints of their house of writers and artists, and for shaping them as creators and people. I know that might sound super corny and hippie (hey, this is Eugene after all) but the way they expressed it was really professional and touching, and I couldn't imagine a more perfect ending to the afternoon.