Remembering Ursula K. Le Guin 1929-2018

I was deeply saddened to learn of the death of Ursula K. Le Guin on January 22. She was a great friend to me over the years and I admired her so deeply. I felt she was everything a human being and a writer could be. Both fiercely honest, and fiercely imaginative. A feminist, a revolutionary thinker, an iconoclastic soul. She loved cats and felt the sentient presence and beauty in every living thing. I will always think of her in her lovely old house in Portland, sitting in front of a fire in the living room with her beloved husband Charles. This is where they enjoyed a cocktail most evenings - bourbon, as I remember, was her preference - and often read aloud to each other at night. The last time I saw her she bravely offered to introduce me at a reading I did from my new memoir at Powell’s Bookstore in the summer of 2016. The same bookstore where she had introduced me when my first novel was published almost thirty years earlier.

Below is the text of that introduction, which emphasizes her passionate belief in the separation of church and state and her distrust of religious patriarchies. I will forever be grateful for her friendship, her kindness, and the encouragement she gave me over the years. But most of all I will be grateful for her work, those amazing stories, poems, essays, and novels of such blazing intelligence, imagination, and beauty. They belong to us forever, and in those remarkable texts she will always live on.

“Judith came to Powell’s back in 1989 to read from her first novel, The Chinchilla Farm.  I am happy to welcome her back to read from her new memoir, which gives us the real-life background of that wonderful story of how a girl can blunder into freedom.

The Latter Days tells us about what life’s like when your religion is also your government -- a government whose decisions are unarguable because authorized directly by God.

The men who wrote the U.S. Constitution were so afraid of the terrific power of a religious state, and so aware of the difficulty of combining a hierarchical religion with a democratic government, that – after honest and civil acknowledgments to God -- they wrote religion right out of the government of the United States.

Ever since then, organized believers have struggled to sneak it back in. The “religious Right” that is such a powerful force in our politics is not just fundamentalist Christian but also, less noisily, Mormon. Though there are fewer Mormons than Jews (under 6 million) in the United States, we haven’t yet had a Jewish candidate for President, but we just had a Mormon one.  The Mormon establishment offers radical conservatives a successful model of non-militarized control of civil life by a religious hierarchy -- politically reactionary, patriotic, pro-capitalist, intensely secretive, and entirely male.

Judith Freeman tells us about being a girl growing up inside a power-structure that is in many ways like an Islamic state.  We see and feel the trust, the security, the real happiness, that prevail in that society -- and the subjection of thought to belief, of freedom to authority, and of women to men. Judith is stunningly honest – and yes, she is under excommunication for it – and also stunningly unresentful.  She’s not taking revenge on anybody.  She’s hate-free.  She’s just getting some air and light into a secretive corner of our troubled Republic.  This is a fascinating, timely book – and a very moving one.”

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