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Interview with Ursula K. Le Guin, Gifts
Ursula K. Le Guin, is the author of more than three dozen books. She was awarded a Newbery Honor for the second volume of the Earthsea Cycle, The Tombs of Atuan, and among her other distinctions are the Margaret A. Edwards Award, a National Book Award, and five Nebula Awards. She lives in Portland, Oregon. Her Web site is www.UrsulaKLeguin.com.
Scattered among poor, desolate farms, the clans of the Uplands possess gifts. Wondrous gifts: the ability—with a glance, a gesture, a word—to summon animals, bring forth fire, move the land. Fearsome gifts: They can twist a limb, chain a mind, inflict a wasting illness. The Uplanders live in constant fear that one family might unleash its gift against another. Two young people, friends since childhood, decide not to use their gifts. One, a girl, refuses to bring animals to their death in the hunt. The other, a boy, wears a blindfold lest his eyes and his anger kill.

In this beautifully crafted story, Ursula K. Le Guin writes of the proud cruelty of power, of how hard it is to grow up, and of how much harder still it is to find, in the world's darkness, gifts of light.
Q: Gifts is the first young adult book that you've written since 1990, what pushed you back in this direction?
A: A. My agent did—Linn Prentiss, who was at the Virginia Kidd Agency then, and whom I miss very much now. Linn said to me as a joke, "I wish you'd write a young adult book; it's such a good market at the moment." I said something like, "Oh, I'd like to, but I'm too old to write for adolescents," and Linn snorted and said, "I bet you haven't forgotten what it's like!" That is certainly true. And it got me thinking: What a tough job trying to grow up is—it doesn't matter whether it's in a fantasy world, or the so-called real world….

Q: In many of your fantasy novels, you address issues that teenagers face. When you first visualized Gifts, what was the most prominent lesson that you intended for readers? And did it change during the writing process?
A: I knew I wanted to write about a kid who was expected, by his family, and himself, and everybody, to be able to do a certain thing—to have a certain gift or talent. And it doesn't turn out that way. It goes wrong. (Kind of the opposite of the more familiar story of the talented kid whom nobody recognizes as being talented.)

I had no lesson in mind. I don't teach; I tell stories. A good story is about a whole lot of different things. And different readers will learn different things from the same story. It depends on what they put into it. One reason I love writing for adolescents is they put so much into their reading—mind, heart, and spirit.

Q: The young protagonists in Gifts, Orrec and Gry, have great powers that were passed down from their respective lineages. Orrec wears a blindfold to control his gift, and to avoid the harm that her gift could potentially cause, Gry decides not to use hers. Their choices defy their parents' wishes, and, essentially, they're viewed as turning their backs on their domains—Caspromant and Roddmant. Why did you choose this route for them?
A: Well, I didn't. They worked it out for themselves. Both Orrec and Gry were very strong characters right from the start, the kind of characters whom a writer can trust to carry the story—to do what they have to do, what their soul or their destiny asks of them. My job was to let them do it, and not mess around with them with any theories or messages or stuff.

Everybody in that book was a strong character, determined to have it their way. Even the animals. Coaly just walked in and there she was, the dog of my heart

Q: There's an unexpected, surprising twist when it comes to Orrec's gift. Without giving it away—if that's possible—why did he have to go through such pains to learn the truth about his gift?
A: It really is hard to talk about this without giving away something neither Orrec nor the reader knows for a large part of the book. All I can say is, learning to know who you are, what you ought to do, what you can do, is very, very seldom a quick and easy job. For most of us it takes pains—and it takes pain—to learn it.

Q: The ending leaves the reader curious about Orrec and Gry's future and the fate of Caspromant and Roddmant. Any chance that the curiosity will be curbed with a sequel?
A: Oh yes! I couldn't just leave those two. I had to find out what they did and where they went…. But they aren't the main characters, they're "supporting leads" in the next book, and it takes place in a very different part of the Western Shore, far south of the Uplands.

Q: In recent years, you've been honored with the 2002 PEN/Malamud Award for excellence in short fiction, the 2004 Margaret A. Edwards Award for lifetime achievement, and the 2004 Locus Award for Changing Planes (Harcourt, 2003). In addition, three of your books have been finalists for the American Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize, and in April of this year, you delivered the ALSC 2004 May Hill Arbuthnot Honor Lecture. These are just a few of the highlights of your extraordinary forty-year writing career. As an author, what's been the most gratifying moment for you?
A: The best time, I guess, is when you've worked out the plan of a novel and you get going, you get writing, the story is happening—and you see it whole, you see all it could be: Oh, this is going to be so beautiful!

Of course, when you finish, when it's done, it may be satisfying, you did your best, but it never is—it never can be—as beautiful as those moments when you first see it whole. So it's extremely encouraging when people tell you it's good and give you prizes for it and remind you that you did do your best.

Artists always need to be encouraged, rewarded, praised. Their work is their greatest satisfaction, but it isn't complete until somebody else has seen it, read it, responded to it. And the more the merrier!

Q: Since the early sixties, you've published short stories, children's and young adult books, fiction and nonfiction, poetry and criticism—the list goes on. Which genre challenges you the most?
A: Poetry most, nonfiction next. In prose fiction I know what I'm doing, and when I try something I haven't tried before, I can calculate the risks—like a good cook inventing a new recipe. In nonfiction my opinions become unruly, and I am fatally eloquent, and so I have to work terribly hard just to be honest.

As for poetry, which I've written ever since I was five, it's always as if I've never tried it before and have everything yet to learn. So I'm very seldom sure of what I'm doing or what I've done. But now and then, grace descends.

Q: In December 2004 the Sci-Fi Channel will debut a miniseries based on your award-winning Earthsea novels. (Click here, www.scifi.com/earthsea, for more information.) With a cast including Danny Glover and Isabella Rossellini, the television series must be very exciting for you. What can you tell us about this Hollywood experience?
A: On my Web site, www.UrsulaKLeGuin.com, readers can see what little I am able to say about this production.

Q: You're currently on what you call a "sabbatical"—a reprieve from book signings and other appearances—as a gift to yourself for your seventy-fifth birthday and a chance to focus on writing. Any hints for your fans as to what you're working on?
A: Sure! When I'm between books, I never can say anything but "I have no idea what will happen next," but at the moment I am working on a book—the one that follows Gifts. I have maps of the Western Shore, and the country of Ansul, and the city of Ansul, and the house called Galvamand pinned up all around my writing desk, so that I can find my way around. I think the book will be called The Waylord.

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Ursula K. Le Guin

Ursula K. Le Guin


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