Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Ursula K. Le Guin at Potlatch 18

Recent books of honor at Potlatch, a non-profit literary convention for readers and writers of speculative fiction held Feb. 27-March 1, include the Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler (17), followed by the Dimensions of Sheckley: the Selected Novels of Robert Sheckley (16), The Avram Davidson Treasury edited by Robert Silverberg and Grania Davis (15) and A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick (14).

So, the selection of Ursula K. Le Guin's Always Coming Home (1985), along with John M. Ford's
Growing Up Weightless, provided one of few opportunities for the author of a Book of Honor, to attend the convention. The last time one of Le Guin's works was featured at Potlatch was 1996: the video of The Lathe of Heaven (based on Le Guin's 1971 novel).

At Potlatch 18 in Sunnyvale, Calif., Ursula K. Le Guin sat quietly by while attendees discussed
Always Coming Home. Topics included whether the book, written in a non-traditional, anthropological style was, in fact, a novel and how it might be read: in a linear fashion or by skipping around through the sections of story, poem, and fictional non-fiction. Le Guin waived an opportunity to provide any of her own definitive answers.

Later, the Book of Honor author lead a panel on graphic novels and participated in one on point of view. On Saturday, after reading stories and poems from
Always Coming Home to attendees both at Potlatch and in Second Life, she took questions. She gracefully fielded inquiries about her works dating back to Tombs of Atuan (1971) (which she said felt as if it were written by a person named "Ursula K. Le Guin," rather than the author she has become).

Another discussion that ensued was whether
Always Coming Home was a true utopia. Le Guin said the short story "Old Women Hating," contained within Always Coming Home, was in part a response to the idea that the people who inhabit utopias must be perfectly behaved. She also said that "the pastoral dream," world of the Kesh people, while a fun place to visit, was not her own personal vision of utopia. She does enjoy aspects of urban living.

The most poignant moment of Le Guin's talk came, in conclusion, when Leslie Howle, executive director of
Northwest Media Arts and Clarion West Writers Workshop, asked Le Guin whether she felt optimistic about the future.

Le Guin, who said she remembers hearing the news, at age 13, of the atomic bomb drop on Hiroshima in 1945, declared that a holocaust is inevitable. We "clever monkeys" will most certainly find a way to destroy ourselves, she said. While Le Guin may not have the power of prophecy, it was still disturbing
to hear this dire prediction from such an insightful author.

She countered with a ray of hope, however. The earth may yet outlast mankind, she said. It is stronger still.
"Earth abides," she concluded. A standing ovation followed.

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