Friday, June 01, 2018

Conversations on Writing by Ursula K. LeGuin

If there is any author in the science fiction and fantasy genres who amply deserves a title like grande dame, it is the late Ursula K. Le Guin. (October 21, 1929 -- January 22, 2018) Her writing career began in the early 1960s with short stories and novels; and continued up to her recent death. In that time, she wrote for adults, young adults, and children; published essays and non-fiction books on writing; was a speaker at many events; co-founded the Oregon Institute of Literary Arts; was declared a Living Legend by the Library of Congress; received lifetime achievement awards from multiple different organizations, including the ALA and the National Book Foundation; and for her writing won five Locus awards, two Hugo awards, one World Fantasy award, nineteen Locus awards, the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, and was a finalist for the Pulitzer, among other accolades and recognitions almost too numerous to recount in a single book review.

Conversations on Writing, published only months after her death at the age of 88, becomes, therefore, almost a bittersweet capstone placed on the life of a woman whose genius is as widely recognized as it is entirely undeniable. The book, consisting of transcripts of three interviews conducted by radio personality David Naimon with the prolific author, is indeed less an interview than it is a real conversation about writing – Le Guin’s specifically, and Naimon is clearly very well-versed in her body of work; but also writing as a craft, writing as a political act, writing as an ultimately human act. 

Le Guin’s wit and wisdom are on full display here; as books about writing go, this is not so much a how-to manual as it is a manifesto on why-to. Le Guin is wide-ranging and expansive on topics which are clearly near to her heart, including gender relations, the proper uses (and misuses) of language and grammar, the natural world, philosophy, and more. Excerpts from the author’s works intersperse the pages, always relevant to the discussion at hand when they appear.

Long-time fans will find this book a delight, fully in the vein of what they’ve come to expect from Le Guin; but it also serves as a good entry point for new readers. Above and beyond, however, it is a tribute to one of the greatest voices in not just the science fiction genre but American literature generally, in the wake of her passing.

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