Share Cowboy Zen Grandmother: Remembering the First Time I Met Ursula K. Le Guin

Cowboy Zen Grandmother: Remembering the First Time I Met Ursula K. Le Guin

Now in his fifth year after the founding of  Saga Press, Joe Monti has twice been nominated for the World Fantasy Award for Contributions to the field. Before joining Saga Press in 2013, Joe worked in the industry for eighteen years as a literary agent, an editor, a buyer, and a sales rep. His authors have won the National Book Award, the Hugo Award, the Nebula Award, the World Fantasy Award, a Michael L. Printz Award, and have been New York Times bestsellers.

As a young man working as a children’s book buyer for Barnes & Noble, I had been looking for ways into the professional fantasy and science fiction community. The walls between children’s, young adult, adult fiction were not as permeable as they are now. So in 1998 I volunteered to revive a venerable, but lapsed reading series—the New York Review of Science Fiction Readings. For my last event as curator, I arranged for Ursula K. Le Guin to give a reading and Q&A along with Carol Emshwiller. Carol, now 96, is another lauded science fiction and fantasy writer who has been working since the seventies—a contemporary of Ursula’s—wonderfully insightful, with a joyous personality. The two had corresponded but had never met until that night.

I got in touch with Ursula’s publisher, Harcourt, to arrange the event at a theater in Tribeca, Performance Works, on Chambers Street. After confirming a group dinner with some NYC science fiction and fantasy editors and writers before the event, Ursula had her publicist call me, asking if I wouldn’t mind meeting her and her husband Charles at Swissotel The Drake and taking a cab downtown together to ensure she wouldn’t get lost.

I distinctly remember pausing, thinking: Well, I’d have to sneak out of the office around 4:00 to make sure I could get uptown in time to rendezvous and get another cab to take us in time to The Odeon for dinner.

Then I thought, still without answering the publicist, if someone had offered me a 30-45 minute cab ride with Ursula K. Le Guin and her husband, what would I pay? What organ would I trade for this chance?

It was a particularly cold Friday night, on October 20th, 2000, a change from the traditional Monday night events I held at the theater as they were in-between shows. Ursula, Charles and I all have bulky winter coats on, but there was no way I was going to sit in the front seat. So keeping up the patter, I take off my coat and slide into the hump in the back seat of the yellow cab, right in-between them. I roll my jacket up and place it over the shopping bag I had brought along.

We talked about their travels, the last time she was in NYC, and I was marveling at the sound and cadence of her voice as it wasn’t at all what I was expecting. It had a Western twang to it, and seemed to resonate from somewhere deep inside of her tiny frame. It was hypnotic.

“Joe, I have a question for you. Do you think, at the end of the reading, that people will expect there to be a signing?”

“Well, we weren’t able to secure an off-site bookseller for the event, but I would assume that many folks will be bringing copies of their favorites to get signed. It has been awhile since you were in the city.”

“Oh,” she said, “I dislike signing books. I feel as if some people would prefer to take some of my blood instead, as if they could take a piece of me with them.”

I looked down at my feet, relieved that she couldn’t see the shopping bag which contained my five favorite Le Guin novels (in hardcover, even though some of them were just Science Fiction Book Club editions, and none was a true first) that I had planned to ask her to sign.

Dinner was a great success, everyone talking and laughing. Ursula, Charles, and Carol were getting along as well as I had imagined they would. (Carol’s late husband, Ed Emshwiller, was an artist who painted a lot of great surreal book and magazine covers for science fiction and fantasy from the 1950’s through the 1970’s, and also was the set designer and visual consultant on the original PBS adaptation of Ursula’s THE LATHE OF HEAVEN.) One of my great joys is playing matchmaker, so feeling that a job had been well done, I left The Odeon early to set up the theater, and do a sound check, prep the stage, etc.

I arrived to find the theater sold out, the first, and only sell-out I ever had during my tenure. Even my mother travelled in from Yonkers, as I had talked about meeting one of my heroes that night.

Ursula read from her latest book, THE TELLING, Carol from LEAPING MAN HILL.  It was exactly the kind of night I hoped it would be, with an engaged pair of brilliant authors and rapt audience. As other folks got books signed I brought around my mother, who emigrated to the U.S. from Argentina, to meet Ursula—especially as Ursula was in the process of translating Argentine writer Angelica Gorodischer’s KALPA IMPERIAL for Small Beer Press. They spoke about Argentina, both being too shy to speak in Spanish, for opposing but similar reasons, and I felt fulfilled, satisfied; happy.


The Lathe Of Heaven
by Ursula K. Le Guin

In a future world racked by violence and environmental catastrophes, George Orr wakes up one day to discover that his dreams have the ability to alter reality. He seeks help from Dr. William Haber, a psychiatrist who immediately grasps the power George wields. Soon George must preserve reality itself as Dr. Haber becomes adept at manipulating George’s dreams for his own purposes.

The Lathe Of Heaven
Ursula K. Le Guin

In a future world racked by violence and environmental catastrophes, George Orr wakes up one day to discover that his dreams have the ability to alter reality. He seeks help from Dr. William Haber, a psychiatrist who immediately grasps the power George wields. Soon George must preserve reality itself as Dr. Haber becomes adept at manipulating George’s dreams for his own purposes.

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The Telling
by Ursula K. Le Guin

Once a culturally rich world, the planet Aka has been utterly transformed by technology. Records of the past have been destroyed, and citizens are strictly monitored. But an official observer from Earth named Sutty has learned of a group of outcasts who live in the wilderness. They still believe in the ancient ways and still practice its lost religion—the Telling. Intrigued by their beliefs, Sutty joins them on a sacred pilgrimage into the mountains…and into the dangerous terrain of her own heart, mind, and soul.

The Telling
Ursula K. Le Guin

Once a culturally rich world, the planet Aka has been utterly transformed by technology. Records of the past have been destroyed, and citizens are strictly monitored. But an official observer from Earth named Sutty has learned of a group of outcasts who live in the wilderness. They still believe in the ancient ways and still practice its lost religion—the Telling. Intrigued by their beliefs, Sutty joins them on a sacred pilgrimage into the mountains…and into the dangerous terrain of her own heart, mind, and soul.

Close

The Unreal and the Real
by Ursula K. Le Guin

THE UNREAL AND THE REAL is a collection of some of Ursula K. Le Guin’s best short stories. She has won multiple prizes and accolades from the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters to the Newbery Honor, the Nebula, Hugo, World Fantasy, and PEN/Malamud Awards. She has had her work collected over the years, but this is the first short story volume combining a full range of her work.

The Unreal and the Real
Ursula K. Le Guin

THE UNREAL AND THE REAL is a collection of some of Ursula K. Le Guin’s best short stories. She has won multiple prizes and accolades from the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters to the Newbery Honor, the Nebula, Hugo, World Fantasy, and PEN/Malamud Awards. She has had her work collected over the years, but this is the first short story volume combining a full range of her work.

Close

The Found and the Lost
by Ursula K. Le Guin

Ursula K. Le Guin has won multiple prizes and accolades from the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters to the Newbery Honor, the Nebula, Hugo, World Fantasy, and PEN/Malamud Awards. She has had her work collected over the years, but never as a complete retrospective of her longer works as represented in the wonderful THE FOUND AND THE LOST.

The Found and the Lost
Ursula K. Le Guin

Ursula K. Le Guin has won multiple prizes and accolades from the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters to the Newbery Honor, the Nebula, Hugo, World Fantasy, and PEN/Malamud Awards. She has had her work collected over the years, but never as a complete retrospective of her longer works as represented in the wonderful THE FOUND AND THE LOST.

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