A Favorite Memory

Ursula K. Le GuinWhile my world is still reeling from the news of the loss of BVC’s beloved co-founder, Ursula, I kept replaying my few personal encounters with this giant of woman. I’m petite. She was shorter and more slender than me. But still she towered over all of us with her warmth, her clarity, her imagination, and her humor.

Years ago SWFA (Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America) arranged for multiple book signings around the country over the weekend of the Nebula Awards, their signature honor of highlights in the SF/F genre. Ursula was already slowing down, not traveling much and not up to attending the award banquet somewhere else in the country. But she agreed to do a signing with some other Portland, Oregon authors if we could do it at the 23rd Avenue Books, in her neighborhood and about as far from home as she cared to go at the time. She had been a patron of that independent bookstore for decades.

The line for an autograph from Ursula went around the block, and then some. One man had flown in from Chicago with a suitcase full of books for this rare opportunity. The rest of us sat at the same table as Ursula, an honor indeed, and chatted quietly among ourselves. No one wanted our books. They were all there for Ursula.

Danielle Perry, Lea Day,  John C. Bunnell, and I were discussing the movie Dogma which had just come out on DVD, and how perfect was the casting of Alan Rickman in his part.

Ursula lifted her head from the latest copy of Left Hand of Darkness, eyes bright and twinkling. “Alan Rickman?” she asked us. “Are we going to see an Alan Rickman movie when we’re finished here? Just let me tend to these last few people and we’ll go. I love Alan Rickman. He’s such a hunk.”

Alas, there were no Alan Rickman movies playing in Portland that weekend.


About Phyllis Irene Radford

Irene Radford has been writing stories ever since she figured out what a pencil was for. A member of an endangered species—a native Oregonian who lives in Oregon—she and her husband make their home in Welches, Oregon where deer, bears, coyotes, hawks, owls, and woodpeckers feed regularly on their back deck. A museum trained historian, Irene has spent many hours prowling pioneer cemeteries deepening her connections to the past. Raised in a military family she grew up all over the US and learned early on that books are friends that don’t get left behind with a move. Her interests and reading range from ancient history, to spiritual meditations, to space stations, and a whole lot in between. Mostly Irene writes fantasy and historical fantasy including the best-selling Dragon Nimbus Series and the masterwork Merlin’s Descendants series. In other lifetimes she writes urban fantasy as P.R. Frost or Phyllis Ames, and space opera as C.F. Bentley. Later this year she ventures into Steampunk as someone else. If you wish information on the latest releases from Ms Radford, under any of her pen names, you can subscribe to her newsletter: www.ireneradford.net Promises of no spam, merely occasional updates and news of personal appearances.


A Favorite Memory — 8 Comments

  1. I don’t even remember how or why I landed on her website (apparently I’ve travelled the world via the internet), but I ended up on her blog in 2012, reading her immensely entertaining post about the opening ceremonies for the London Olympics. From there, it was a short hop to the welcoming community of the Book View Café (that’s where the link told me to go, and, thankfully, I followed it).

    She’s always been remarkably approachable here—offering advice with her question-and-answer series for aspiring (or blocked) writers, regaling us with the latest adventures of Pard, or even taking part in the odd lively discussion. Our heroes often appear so removed and untouchable, but Ursula seemed sincerely interested and accessible (insofar as her time and health allowed).

    I just re-watched her incisive acceptance speech for her 2014 National Book Association lifetime achievement award. We know people grow ever older, but we somehow manage to fool ourselves that they’ll be here forever.

    The world feels a little lonely right now.

    • | Our heroes often appear so removed and untouchable, but Ursula seemed sincerely | interested and accessible (insofar as her time and health allowed).
      | We know people grow ever older, but we somehow manage to fool ourselves that
      | they’ll be here forever.
      | The world feels a little lonely right now.

      Hear! Hear!

      My spouse and I were invited by Ursula for tea and conversation last August before we witnessed the total solar eclipse south of Portland. I’ve casually known Ursula by email for a few years since she signed my very old Left Hand of Darkness, but to make herself that accessible? Excuse me? She wrote my favorite novel, and others that helped me and changed me and keep trying to inform me to be a better person.

      She was bright and cheery and welcoming, and it was joy to talk with her and I thought she was still just fine when we emailed on New Year’s Eve. Parting with that yin and yang force of nature is such sorrow. She was and is one of the generous and warm spirits I have ever had the pleasure of meeting in person and in prose. As I told her in the New Year’s Eve email:

      “The night before last I had a short but wonderful dream.”
      “David & I were visiting you in your home again and you were looking radiant. I had great pleasure in the dream stating directly to you that you were looking so radiant. You glowed with everything you write Ursula. You glowed with the best of humanity.”

      She replied “That is a good dream.” And thanked *me*, little me, for sharing it with her. Hidden tears are now escaping my eyes. But sadly they emanate from me feeling sorry for myself at the loss of a hero who never acted like one, and signed off on some of her emails to me with a signature lower case “L”, at the beginning of a word that marked her constant generosity toward humanity.

  2. Nice memory, Phyl. Alan Rickman, the thinking woman’s actor! I got to hear her speak once and she said she would write Left Hand of Darkness differently if she did it now, but it’s one of the most brilliant books in our genre and I always use it as an example when I teach a writing class.

  3. And yet another opinion of hers I agree with! Alan Rickman is a hunk.

    And in her spirit, she too was a hunk. And gigantic.

    One of her books I reread at least once a year is The Language of the Night.

    • I have it on my shelf but have practically memorized it, Deborah. I just quoted my own review about it for a pagan tribute to Ursula coming out next week.

      Every writer, especially of speculative fiction, should read The Language of the Night.