Tag Archive for Ursula Le Guin

Interviewing Ursula Le Guin

The death of Ursula Le Guin on January 22 made me sad over our loss of the doyenne of Portland writers, but also put me in a nostalgic mood for the day in 1991 that I interviewed her for a People magazine profile. My story ran on November 18 of that year.

She invited me to her home on Northwest Thurman Street, where we sat outside and talked about her childhood. Raised by anthropologists who were particularly interested in nearly extinct Native American tribes, Ursula remembered a home that was full of activity from her three brothers and from a constant stream of Indians, one of whom, Ishi, was the subject of her mother’s famous book, Ishi in Two Worlds.

She showed me where she usually sat to write, on her porch overlooking the Willamette River. She wrote longhand on tablets and later entered her writing onto her computer in her office, which was on the top floor of the sprawling house.

As we parted, I asked if there was someone from whom she would like me to request a quote. She answered, “Joyce Carol Oates.” I gulped, said, “No problem,” and later panicked. I had no idea how to reach her. Fortunately, at the same time that I was a People correspondent, I was also a regular contributor to The Wall Street Journal’s Leisure & Arts Page. I called my editor there, Ray Sokolov.

No problem, he said. He and Joyce were currently both on a Pulitzer Prize judging panel and he could give me her home number. “Don’t tell her where you got the number,” he said.

Later I called Ursula to tell her how enthusiastic Ms. Oates had been about her. She was very pleased, but confessed, “I haven’t read a single thing by her!” As an afterthought, she said, “Don’t tell anybody!”

Shortly before the article was to be published, I got a frantic call from a People magazine copy editor. The photographer hadn’t provided much information about where he had photographed Ursula, and they were wondering the name of the “huge mountain” Ursula was sitting near. I knew that she had taken the photographer to her cabin at Cannon Beach, but nobody had said anything to me about going to the mountains for photos.

That was before the Internet, however, so the editor couldn’t share the photo with me electronically. I had to wait until the magazine hit the stands. I hurried to Rich’s Cigar Store, opened a copy and saw Ursula sitting in front of . . . Haystack Rock.

As Ursula would have said, with a sad shake of her head, “Those Easterners!”