Le Guin at the Seattle Public Library

Ursula K. Le Guin gave a short and potent speech about the power of language to shape thought and the suspicion governments naturally have of writers at the Washington State Book Awards last week. Her whole speech is available here, although reading it isn’t as compelling as seeing her.

It would be easy to think that she addressed the failings of our own government, but I suspect she also comments on world events, what with Orhan Pamuk’s recent problems in Turkey as well as the historical opposition of governments to writers. That theme is particularly on my mind, as the play Black Snow, which is based on Bulgakov’s novel, is being shown by the University of Washington Drama school; Bulkagov was a writer much oppressed and suppressed by his government.

Le Guin distilled the big ideas of life and politics into a speech that made those given by some of the other writers—and several gave good ones—seem wan by comparison. Perhaps this is unfair, like comparing a mid-level soccer player to a legend, but when all the players take the field the eye naturally seeks the best.

Afterwards I asked her how much she’d been thinking about the topics she’d touched in her speech when she was writing The Earthsea Trilogy, and she answered by saying that she’d come at it from a different direction. At first I was confused and asked what she meant, and she said that with Earthsea she was telling a story, which is unlike blunt political explication. I suppose she thought me another confused fan, and perhaps I am one, but I am glad I asked anyway.

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