Ursula K LeGuin

Return to sender

I wrote a very appreciative letter to fiction writer Ursula LeGuin - a letter I've been mulling in ever-evolving forms since I was about ten - and received a note back. This was pretty exciting for me.

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Her note makes reference to my career, which I talked about a bit in my letter. [Context]

My immediate reactions were 1) Ursula LeGuin is awesome for taking the time to acknowledge a fan message, and 2) Ursula LeGuin has spectacular handwriting. 

I wrote earlier (Part 1, Part 2) about how I finally got around to sending a letter. I'd been uncharacteristically focused on the idea of getting an autograph, as if her signature was a talisman, a tangible sign that the connection between author and reader was real

Once my letter was in the mail, I began to make peace with the idea I would never hear back. On her website, LeGuin says she can't always answer the volume of mail and requests that she receives. My fervor for an autograph, like a sudden, disquieting crush, was gradually replaced by the realization that my letter was itself the talisman I'd sought. I had poured a kind of magic into it: it wasn't necessarily beautiful or timeless, but it was gratitude, heartfelt and long overdue. 

Then I got this note, and I couldn't help but feel it's still really, really great. 

Reach for a stranger's hand(writing), part 2

This was perhaps the fifth or sixth time I'd read A Wizard of Earthsea. Reading it as an adult has been revelatory. It's like a book written by a hundred-year-old person, who has hidden little bits of wisdom into its text that can only be fully appreciated as one passes the milestones of a long life. I adored the book as a child, unaware that half its brilliance passed through me untouched as a neutrino. 

By the time I finished the book, I wanted to do two things: write Ursula K. Le Guin a fan letter, and get a signed copy of the book.

The first has long been overdue. I wrote letters to other luminaries of my young reading life, and occasionally received replies (Lloyd Alexander and Madeline L'Engle come to mind). But for some reason, I never wrote "UKL." I'm a fan of confronting and achieving the unmet dreams of your childhood, so this letter is long overdue.

The second impulse perplexed me. I've never had much interest in signed books, or in the cult of material ephemera around any of the literature or media that I love. The closest thing I have to a collection of anything is a bunch of different natural items with odd textures and intriguing shapes that I put in a shadow box in our bathroom. Assembling collectors' items seems like a weird material perversion of a desire to connect with something you find meaningful. But there I was, wending my way about the web, looking for signed copies of books (Oh! a first edition! I think I remember that cover!) and blanching at the prices. It turns out that signed editions of the book, the old edition I once read, sell for somewhere north of $1000. So I'll just stick with the fan letter. 

Why the sudden interest in an autograph? I can't yet put my finger on it. This book spoke to me as a kid and sparked my interest in writing. It has an unconventional ending, which I won't ruin here, that resonated powerfully with me as a young person, and still does. It was as if, finally acknowledging the influence the author had over my young life, I wanted some emblem of the connection I felt. I wanted to know her hand had inscribed the page. I wanted evidence it was all real. 

Le Guin says on her website that she seldom has time to answer fan mail. I'm sure everyone who writes, like me, hopes that ours in the letter that gets a reply... a connection. But I'm trying to surrender that notion. My appreciation barely adds but a quantum of weight to the mass of accolades that Le Guin's work has received. It has almost no importance. Except to me. It matters to me, inexhaustibly, as light matters, and heat.