14 June 2018

The Ekumen Convene: Portland And The World Celebrate Urusla K. LeGuin

On Wednesday, 13 June 2018, here in Portland, the city she called her own, a group of people devoted to her writing and her life of art convened to celebrate the legacy, still present in our minds and breasts, of Ursula Kroeber LeGuin.

We started out in order to get there at a propitous time and found a parking spot scarcely a block away from the venue, The Schnitz, and within view of the back door of the theatre. As far as omens go, which I don't believe in, this was a good one, so maybe there's something to that.

My life typically does not extend the opportunity for venturing out into such a place. I've lived in Portland for a very long time now, and I tell you truthfully that I have not had the chance to step into the legendary Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. It was a happy thing that Literary Arts made this a free event and that I was able to score two admissions to it.

We wuz there.

The evening was a two hour program which interleaved visual media featuring Ursula and brief monologues by artist who had worked with her, been inspired by her, called her friend. It is now a truth that I can say that for a brief, brilliant time I shared a room with China Miéville, Jonathan Lethem, and Portland City Commissioner Chloe Eudaly, all of whom I'm fans of.

Follows a retrospective impression, strained through a cronically faulty memory:

The speakers whom I'd not as of yet heard of, for a variety of reasons, spoke warmly and deeply and affectionately of her. The writer Molly Gloss spoke of an adventure in friendship beginning as a writer's workshop. Walidah Imarisha spoke of the debt visionary fiction has to Ursula and the disappointment (and dissent from Ursula) when the TV version of Earthsea gave us a Ged who was white ... not red-brown, as per the text. Kelly Link told of her experience editing and publishing Ursula for her small press and how her daughter got to be her namesake, and brought the house down with an anecdote where Ursula compared a pissed-off bantam rooser with a Fox News Republican. Daniel José Older spoke with much wit and sass about how Ursula invited us to make peace with, not repudiate, our own dark side, to make ourselves whole. Julie Phillips, Ursula's biography, spoke of her sharp and dry wit. Andrea Shulz, her editor at Harcourt, told of the role she had in brining Ursula's last novel, Lavinia, to print.

Margaret Atwood was there in recorded form, hailing us from the distant planet of Canada. Seems more distant every day.

The stars for me were, of course, Jonathan Lethem, author of Gun, With Occiasional Music, a book I loved, and he spoke of Ursula's power to be a bridge between here and there, between genre and mainstream, between people who didn't necessarily live on the same page; and China Miéville let us all in on a little secret; the incarnation of darkness that Ged released in Earthsea was inspired by the ... of all things ... tardigrade.

Yeah. That cute little nigh-indestructible water bear.

You learn things.

The above photo was taken during the intermission. I didn't snap any photos during the event (that's just rude, and they asked us not to) and on the screen, during the lull and before the event, were a succession of quotations and book covers over the career. I made sure to snap on that included The Lathe of Heaven, and that's what you see above.

The evening ended, after China's monologue, with the quote about how those who deny the existence of dragons are frequently eaten by dragons, which served as the cue for the entry of a troupe of dragon dancers, which will exist in my memory as a happy thing.

Some of my Ekumenical compatriots produced recording devices and used them. Gentle shame on you folks.

The dragon danced its way back out the door and a message on the screen invited us to follow it out to Main Street. I stopped on the way to sign a board where a number of us fans signed, and I paused for a minute, and then something that had apparently been forming for a long time in me catalystically gelled and compelled itself through my arm into the Sharpie pen:

The Lathe of Heaven is my Bible, and George Orr is my savior.

And so a gathering of the Ekumen, with a full house at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall in Portland, Oregon, my town, Ursula's town, town of dreams that if you push hard enough you might change at will (though sometimes that pushing seems of Sisyphean proportion), along with thousands who came in by ansible from locations scattered across the continent and perhaps across the globe, went our separate ways into the night.

We all take a little bit of Urusla with us, of course, in our own ways, in our own minds and hearts.

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