Thoughtful reflections on the writing life from the late author (1929-2018).
Le Guin (No Time to Spare: Thinking About What Matters, 2017, etc.), the winner of a host of awards during her prolific career, likened a successful interview to “a good badminton rally,” where the birdie floats effortlessly between the players. Her three conversations with writer, editor, and radio show and podcast host Naimon felt good from the start, a process of mutual discovery and intelligent exchanges about fiction, poetry, and nonfiction, three genres to which Le Guin devoted much of her career (she was also an essayist, children’s book author, playwright, and translator). The author admitted feeling most comfortable talking about fiction, the subject of her recent book Steering the Craft, to which Naimon frequently referred as they discussed such writerly concerns as grammar, sentence rhythm, and point of view. Use of the present tense, common in contemporary fiction, results, Le Guin said, in “flashlight focus,” where readers see only what is directly ahead. It is “great for high suspense, high drama, cut-to-the-chase writing,” but otherwise, she found the authorial point of view (a term she preferred to “omniscient”) “the most flexible and useful.” Le Guin cited Virginia Woolf, Tolstoy, Orwell, Grace Paley, Margaret Atwood, and José Saramago (a late discovery, she admitted) as writers she particularly admired. Although more tentative discussing poetry, she conceded that her work reflected an immersion in Taoism and Buddhism “so deep in me and everything I do.” A.E. Housman, Rilke, and Gabriela Mistral, whom she felt was unjustly ignored, earned her special praise. Le Guin’s political views surfaced strongly in the discussion about nonfiction, and Naimon asked about writing across differences of race, gender, or culture: “When does an attempt to understand become co-optation?” Acknowledging the complexity of the question, Le Guin responded, “eternal vigilance is required.” The conversations are interspersed with excerpts from Le Guin’s work and that of other writers discussed.
Candid and perceptive last words by a treasured writer.