December 9th, 2013 | MATTHEW KORFHAGE Arts & Books | Posted In: Books

Iconic Portland Author Ursula K. Le Guin Talks Anarchy With The Paris Review

Sci-fi writer joins Faulkner and T.S. Eliot as "Art of Fiction" interviewee.

uklbymarianwoodkolischUrsula K. Le Guin - IMAGE: Marian Wood Kolsch

The Paris Review's "The Art of Fiction" interviews are a ridiculous treasure trovelong-form interviews about the craft of writing conducted with some of the greatest authors of the past 60 years, usually American. Interview subjects in the past couple years have included Jonathan Franzen and Ann Beattie; flip the calendar back a few decades and you find Ernest Hemingway, Vladimir Nabokov, Ralph Ellison and Joan Didion.

Well, Portland sci-fi author Ursula K. Le Guin joined this sturdy pantheon this September, and as of this week the interview is available online. Le Guin is best known for the book cycle beginning with The Wizard of Earthsea; her gender-bending work The Left Hand of Darkness was recently adapted for the stage by Portland Playhouse and Hand2Mouth Theatre (see WW's mixed but appreciative review here). She also wrote a 1971 novel called The Lathe of Heaven, set in 2000s-era Portland, in which the everyone is poor, it always rains, and dreams affect reality in ways that aren't always good. Sound familiar?

Anyway, the interview ranges across subjects from Buddhism to feminism to going to high school with Philip K. Dick. She says her dad called publisher Alfred Knopf a "pirate." 

A passage about Portland did particularly catch our eye, as a callback to our erstwhile days as a piss-poor, contrarian town that would eventually be nicknamed "Little Beirut" by George Bush the First.

On The Disposessed, a novel about anarchists:

...at some point it occurred to me that nobody had written an anarchist utopia. We’d had socialist utopias and dystopias and all the rest, but anarchism—hey, that would be fun. So then I read all the anarchist literature I could get, which was quite a lot, if you went to the right little stores in Portland... You had to get to know the owner of the store. And if he trusted you, he’d take you to the back room and show you this wealth of material, some of which was violent anarchism and would have been frowned on by the government.

The book, she said, was about "offering a completely different way of life—not as a blueprint, only as a vision—to a civilization more and more intent on one costly and destructive kind of progress." She adds that she and Todd Barton, longtime composer for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, made an album called Music and Poetry of the Kesh, featuring songs sung by the fictitious people in the book:
 We had a hell of a lot of fun making that album, and then we wanted to copyright it. We heard back from the copyright office, and they said, You cannot copyright folk music. It’s the music of an indigenous people. So we had the pleasure of saying, Well, we made up the indigenous people. Can we copyright them, too?

Read the full interview here.
 
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