Dawn Reader

Dawn Reader
from Open Door Coffee Co.; Hudson, OH; Oct. 26, 2016

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The Goddess of Earthsea, Part II

Ursula K. Le Guin

As I wrote yesterday, I was talking about and encouraging my seventh graders to read the Earthsea Trilogy when I resigned from the Aurora City Schools in the spring of 1978 and headed off to Chicagoland, where I thought I would remain forever at Lake Forest College, happily heading the Department of Education.

But by October that first fall, I knew I'd made a mistake.  I liked the college (reminded me of my own Hiram College) and my colleagues and my students, but I did not care for administration, and I missed teaching middle schoolers.  Perhaps one sure sign: I assigned A Wizard of Earthsea to my Lake Forest students so that they could see its relevance to the whole coming-of-age thing they would be dealing with in their own classrooms.  Oddly (?), they resisted that book, appearing to think that it was "beneath" them as sophisticated college students.

They were wrong.

Between 1979 (when I began teaching at Western Reserve Academy) and the fall of 2001 (when I returned to WRA after my Aurora retirement) I had no real opportunity to teach the Earthsea books.  In a way, I guess, I had "moved on" from fantasy fiction--not in any way because I felt it was "inferior," but because my interests had shifted.  And I tend to follow my interests, wherever they take me.

But that first fall, back at WRA, I got a surprise.  One of my assignments that year was teaching a section of what the school then called "Senior Seminar," a culminating course for all seniors that used to be called "Future Roots" and is now called something else.  The seniors read texts in common (no matter whose section they were in)--from Plato to Nietzsche to Martin Luther King, Jr.--wrote papers on similar topics and produced a major research paper in the winter.

In the spring, they all read a "lighter" work in common--and in the spring of 2002 it was a novel by Ursula K. Le Guin, The Dispossessed.   I had not read much of Le Guin's sci-fi before that novel, but I did, of course, know a bit about her and so had a good background for this novel about two proximate planets of very different character and political structure.  (Gee, I wonder what Le Guin was getting at?)

I see in my copy of the book that I underlined the text heavily and showed my customary astuteness when I wrote in the margin the word "Darwin" next to this comment by a character: "The law of existence is struggle--competition--elimination of the weak--a ruthless war for survival" (143).  Hey, you can't slip Darwin by me!  

Anyway, the students seemed to like the book--our discussions were pretty animated.  And I was already excited about the realization of an idea I'd had back in the fall: Why not invite Le Guin to campus?

I could not find her on the Internet (later, I learned, she--this sci-fi writer--was not yet online!), so I used Contemporary Authors and learned who her agent was and in late September I wrote asking about arranging a visit.

On 29 October 2001, a reply from Le Guin herself--a letter she'd sent on 25 October (see image)!  With bad news: "There are an awful lot of demands on my time ..."  But in a handwritten PS--"Maybe some kind of communication about The Dispossessed could be set up--"  I wrote back the same day--suggesting a Q&A via U. S. Mail.  And I talked about our common Oregon experiences--she lived there; my father had grown up there.

She wrote back and suggested a phone conference.  And she noted that she rented a cottage in Cannon Beach very near the place where I had recently scattered my father's ashes.

BTW--All of this was pre-Skype.  Too bad.

With some more letters we established a date: 23 May 2002, 2 P.M. (our time).  The other Senior Sem teachers and I picked eighteen students to participate (more about that later), all of whom would surround a table with some speakers in the center.  And speak directly with the author of the book they'd just read ...

TOMORROW: that phone conference with Ursula K. Le Guin

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