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Dear Ursula…

When I first began writing seriously a few years back, I enrolled in a local creative writing intensive program. During one of the workshop sessions, we were asked to read something we loved in order to figure out how great writing sounds. Naturally I settled on your writing and found a passage in my battered Ace trade paperback edition of The Left Hand of Darkness. Chapter 18 begins:

“Sometimes, as I’m falling asleep in a dark and quiet room, I have for a moment a great and treasurable illusion of the past. The wall of the tent leans up against my face, not visible but audible, a slanting plane of faint sound. The susurrus of blown snow, nothing can be seen. The light emission of the Chabe stove is cut off, and it exists only as a sphere of heat, a heart of warmth. The faint dampness and confining cling of my sleeping bag, the sound of the snow. Barely audible, Estraven’s breathing as he sleeps. Darkness. Nothing else. We are inside, the two of us, the shelter, at rest, at the center of all things. Outside, as always, lies the great darkness, the cold, death’s solitude.

In such fortunate moments as I fall asleep, I know beyond doubt what the real center of my own life is, that time, which is past and lost and yet is permanent, the enduring moment, the heart of warmth.”

It was embarrassing at first. I was stuttering through the first lines, tripping up on the pronunciation of “susurrus”. But then I eased into things and gained sure through your words that formed the sentences that forged a world. A sphere of heat, the heart of warmth, and then I was there, with you on Gethen, inside the mind of Genly Ai, amidst the darkness and the silence, and moved to try as hard as I could to craft something as haunting and profound as the chain of words I had just read aloud.

I am still trying to this day.

Rest in peace, Ursula. I hope you are walking in your forests right now, deep within the Immanent Grove where tree roots are the roots of being, learning at last what no act or act or power in life could ever teach you, what you had never learned.

Isaac

13 Comments

  1. MSW Yuen says

    I saw one of her quotes @ Twitter:

    Go on and do your work. Do it well. it is all you can go…

  2. I’ve never read any of her stuff, but I’ve heard the name my whole life. It’s always on my list of authors to explore, and I just haven’t been there yet. Scalzi wrote on his blog a little about her, too, and posted a picture of the book “No Time To Spare”, which he’d just bought. Now I want to find it and other books by her. I think I’ve read a short story or two by her (I’ve got anthologies of short sci-fi I still haven’t read yet), but I’ll get to them.
    It’s a bummer because from the sound of things, she’s probably one of those authors I’d want to travel to a book signing or conference to meet.
    At least there’s a ton of work to remember her by.

    • I’ve never met her, but I was hoping she would maybe make an appearance at AWP Portland in 2019. But it wasn’t meant to be…

  3. I’m thrilled you were “discovered” and thrilled that I found my way to your wonderful blog. I never read any of Le Guin but I’ve been hearing a lot about her these few days, sadly. I’d always run across the books and wondered if it’d be something I’d be interested in. After reading the quote you provided, I’m definitely going to pick up a book. Thank you!

  4. Last year I finished The Other Wind with such a feeling of joy in my heart that I decided to send a letter to Ms Le Guin. In the end, I never wrote it. If only…

    I will always be grateful to Ms Le Guin. Her books shone with wisdom and compassion and hope (never forced — it always fell like rain). The light they gave off made the darkest shadows.

    My sister is 13. Recently, I gave her A Wizard of Earthsea to read. She enjoyed it, but it didn’t seem to have a profound effect on her — the right person and the right book need to be united at the right time, I think. Well, I hope that she’ll come back it later on. I can remember how free I felt, reading about responsibility and duty and being bound.

    Your letter is very moving. And what a wonderful passage that is from The Left Hand of Darkness! Very brave of you to read out a passage containing the word sussurus 🙂

    • I know the original Earthsea trilogy gets most of the attention, but the second half of the series is dear to my heart – brave, tender, and haunting journeys back to a changing world, complete with a super satisfying conclusion, too. I’m glad someone else enjoyed the Other Wind as much as I did.

      Yeah, I had a similar experience with my sister. You can’t force these things 🙂 Maybe Atuan would work better – I know girls and women who said that reading about a female protagonist in a fantasy novel changed their world.

  5. Thank you for your post . Ursula le Guin’s writing has the power to transport the reader while enlightening and inspiring…her style and the power of her words will endure but the loss of her presence is profound…

  6. Sylvia Dell says

    lem said “the right person and the right book need to be united at the right time” and he could be speaking of me.

    Last week, I’d just read Wizard of Earthsea and was halfway though Tombs of Atuan when I read news of her passing – I felt a powerful sense of shock that in my 60th year, I’ve just found her words and now she is gone. But what a stunning and enlightening legacy and The Furthest Shore has an even greater profundity at this moment of loss.

    I thank you Isaac for your blog and this post especially – you and Ursula have given me much to reflect upon

    • Thanks for reading, Sylvia. The Farthest Shore is the book I’ve gone back to on many occasions when grappling with loss. It seems fitting that I would go to it again for solace for Le Guin’s passing through her own words.

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