Eavesdropping on a Conversation with Ursula K. Le Guin

It is good to have an end to journey toward, 

but it is the journey that matters in the end.

Photo by Marian Wood Kolisch
Photo by Marian Wood Kolisch

On a cold and windy Sunday afternoon, Bill and I settled into our seats in UCLA’s Royce Hall to listen to Ursula Le Guin in conversation with Meryl Friedman from UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance. It felt something like participatory eavesdropping (where one does not have to pretend in any way not to be eavesdropping). It was also a 90-minute dose of inspiration.

I want to share with you a few notes I jotted down. And I will share this with you: I have carried around Ursula Le Guin’s book of poems Going Out With Peacocks for 20 years. This 81-page book contains five poems that have repeatedly consoled me, inspired me, and given me courage. They are tabbed so that I can find them easily.

The lines from “The Hero” gave me the courage I needed to begin my documentary film “Women of Mystery.” I was reluctant for a variety of reasons (including funders and others asking me if I thought it was possible to make a visually interesting film about writers). I felt the “The Hero” was describing the fictional female detectives I had fallen in love with, who I felt were uncovering a provocative new story about truth and justice:

There are better things to do

with anger, with beauty,

with a headful of serpents

who can hiss wisdom; there must

be a story for my dear young hero.

it will not be the old story.

Her poem “The Years” reminds me, when I need reminding (all of the time!) that life is filled with unexpected joys, challenges, textures…

The years come all colors

like the rags

in the rag-basket my great-aunt

made her round rugs from…

Here then are a few of the notes I jotted down on Sunday, November 15 in UCLA’s beautiful Royce Hall:

Hear what you write. When Virginia Woolf took a bath, she recited her dialogue.

Most people like to be read to… Reading aloud isn’t taught much in schools (it isn’t taught enough).

She has read “Lord of the Rings” aloud three times (to each of her three children).

Early in her writing life, she reached a fork in the road. One road had a sign that said the road’s name. The other road’s sign didn’t say. She chose that road. She paused. Then added, “I went my own way.”

She will always remember being in an audience where someone asked the composer Philip Glass what was required to be an artist. He answered: Commitment. She agrees.

WaveInTheMindHere is a piece of loving advice she offers to writers in her book The Wave of the Mind: Talks and Essays on the Writer, the Reader, and the Imagination

“…for a fiction writer the world is full of stories, and when a story is there, it’s there, and you just reach up and pick it. Then you have to be able to let it tell itself.

First you have to be able to wait, to wait in silence. Wait in silence and listen. Listen for the tune, the vision, the story. Not grabbing, not pushing, just waiting, listening, being ready for when it comes. This is an act of trust.

Trust in yourself, trust in the world.”



SteeringTheCraft-Rev-9780544611610I am looking forward to reading her book Steering the Craft: A 21st Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story, 2015. Also will add to my shelf: Finding My Elegy, 2012, which includes new poems and poems from earlier volumes. A new book of poetry Late in the Day will be published next month, December 2015.




One Comment

  • Natalie

    This sounds like a lovely conversation to eavesdrop on! I’m adding a few of Ursula Le Guin’s books to my winter break reading list 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Anti-Spam Quiz: