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Portland, Oregon

Ursula K. Le Guin

With her signature wit and intellect, Ursula K. Le Guin gives a profound response to the question, “Where do you get your ideas from?”

Ursula K. Le Guin opens with the question, “Where do you get your ideas from?” and replies with her favorite response, from Harlan Ellison: “He says he gets his ideas from a mail-order house in Schenectady.” Le Guin goes on to seriously address the question, because “unanswerable questions are just what fiction writers like to answer.” She discusses the process of all artists’ work, of the connection between experience and imagination, and the tendency for Americans to prefer realism in their novels and to put genre fiction in the literary ghetto. She warns against the dismissal of fantasy: “People who deny the existence of dragons are often eaten by dragons. From within.” She goes on to explain the importance of reading, and how this virtual experience not only feeds writers’ imaginations, but is also a wholly different experience than viewing stories onscreen. She ends with a profound meditation on the nature of rhythm in the world and the way art breaks down barriers between people. This lecture is transcribed in the Literary Arts anthology The World Split Open (Tin House, 2014).

Ursula Kroeber Le Guin was born in 1929 in Berkeley, and lives in Portland, Oregon. As of 2013, she has published 21 novels, 11 volumes of short stories, four collections of essays, 12 books for children, six volumes of poetry and four of translation, and has received many honors and awards including the Hugo, Nebula, National Book Award, and PEN-Malamud. Her most recent publications are Finding My Elegy: New and Selected Poems, 1960-2010 and The Unreal and the Real: Selected Short Stories, which received the 2012 Oregon Book Award for Fiction. (from www.ursulakleguin.com)

This is a very radical job, dealing with the ideas you get if you are an artist and take your job seriously, this shaping a vision into the medium of words. It’s what I like best to do in the world, and what I like to talk about when I talk about writing.” 

“Fiction results from imagination working on experience. We shape experience in our minds so that it makes sense. We force the world to be coherent, to tell us a story.” 

“Literature is a communal enterprise…The stuff from other people’s books gets into us just as our own experience does, is composted and transmuted and transformed by the imagination just as actual experiences are, and comes forth entirely changed.”