A Letter to Ursula Le Guin — Days After Your Departure

The late novelist Ursula K. Le Guin. (Photo:  L.)The late novelist Ursula K. Le Guin. (Photo: L.; Edited: LW / TO)

A relationship with a beloved writer can be a very selfish place. You are alone with them, building an understanding of the world through their eyes and some intimate pairing of imaginations — they paint the worlds but all of it happens inside you. I tried to write something more epic and universal, and I trust that will come. But first I wanted to write a letter to Ursula that was about how she shaped me.

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Dear Ursula,

Great teacher.

Great spirit.

I’ve been crying since I got the news of your passing. But I’ve also been feeling very alive.

I got to live at the same time as you. … And I get the honor of grieving you.

There are thoughts and ideas you wrote down that became beliefs for my whole life, marking posts on the journey of freeing myself.

There are questions you asked that changed the way I could think.

Many of us don’t get to experience grandparents who can accept us whole. For me, you were one of the adults who stepped into that yawning space, who joined the composite of my dream elder.

You let me know I may be in the wrong universe, but I am not wrong, I am not impossible.

You not only matched and fed my queer unorthodox mind, but also pushed me further. On relationships and sex alone, you had me consider: what about four-way marriage? What about gender as a responsive switchy sexual state that was otherwise nonexistent? What about instead of a period you just had a monthly sexual overdrive and a special place to go orgy for that time?

I am a lucky one — I got to tell you to your face that you were everything — and you were gracious about it.

I am still creating a project about your work. In researching you, I became fascinated by your abundant correspondence, your art and poetry connected to the worlds you created, your fierce letters to local editors about tree removals, your loves and flirtations.

I still want to read everything you wrote. It feels impossible though, but in the best way.

Writers cast themselves out to the world with words, so that now you feel fully dispersed more than gone. You were so generous with your gifts, and you were rare – both prolific and genius.

So many genius words!

The worlds you wrote increased my trust that White people could imagine something beyond their own supremacy, and that capitalism could be out imagined, like monarchy.

Even when I did not seek you, you were there.When I learned to meditate, you’d left me a framework.

When I fell in love with the Tao, I could turn to your translation.

When I wanted amazing fiction for all my nibblings, you had a series on flying cats.

When I needed to stand up for something, feeling alone in my dignity, you told me about the ones who walk away from a utopia dependent on someone else’s suffering.

When I lost hope in this world, you offered me a plethora of fully formed universes to learn from. You even gave me multiple options for moving between universes, both distant and parallel.

When some aspect of humanity felt beyond my comprehension or compassion, I found books you had written 20 years before that not only opened my heart, but also opened the possible in me, and generated desire for that specific difference.

When I wondered if imagination could be necessary for revolution and transformation, you said, “Yes.” You said our dreams and visions matter, they are the way we make oppression temporary.

88 years. I wanted more. You are that kind of human.

Even as I sit in my grief, you guide me. You remind me that you are not absent, but complete.

“True journey is return.”

love

amb

***

There are two additional things I want to share with people reading this that I didn’t share with Ursula because she already knew.

One is that I think her way of participating in shaping the world by writing new ones, by writing didactic visionary work, was crucial. I think the importance of the role of art in challenging the status quo, calling forth social justice, giving us options and dreams, and mapping blueprints of possibility cannot be overstated. Ursula wrote with a sure hand. She was not afraid to be a part of making a just world, and she used the tools at her disposal. She asked us to do the same.

The other thing I want to share is a few brief excerpts of an interview I did with her via email correspondence after we met. There’s more, which I will share in the Ursula Le Guin Science Fiction and Social Justice Reader later this year. But this gives you a taste of her succinct brilliance:

amb: How does imagination help our species survive?

UKL: It is through imagination that we think intelligently about what we’ve done, are doing, and should do.

amb: Did you ever spend time with Octavia?

UKL: We met only two or three times…She was an extraordinary person, both formidable and lovable. I always felt she was larger than life, if you know what I mean.

amb: Thanks for your life’s work!

UKL: You’re very welcome! I have enjoyed it very much.