Remembering Ursula K. Le Guin at Boskone

This year at Boskone, we have several items that are either dedicated to the work of science fiction icon Ursula K. Le Guin, including a few items that also touch on her contributions to the SF field. We hope that you will be able to join us and to share in these events.

Ursula K. Le Guin
21 October 1929–22 January 2018

Photo © Marian Wood Kolisch

Saturday, February 17, 10:00 am-8:00 pm
Memory Book for Ursula K. Le Guin
In the Maker’s Space, located in the Galleria, we will have a memory book for fans and friends to write memories and notes dedicated to our dearly departed friend Ursula K. Le Guin. At the end of the convention, we will send the book to Ursula’s family with a note of thanks for all she has done for our community.

Friday at 6:00 PM
Exploring Gender in Speculative Fiction
Julie Holderman, Inanna Arthen, Stephen P. Kelner Jr., Suzanne Palmer, Stacey Berg (M)
Harbor III · 60 min · Panel
In 1969, Ursula Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness famously featured an androgynous culture. More recently, Ann Leckie’s celebrated Ancillary series and her latest novel, Provenance, treat readers to a society in which gender doesn’t matter. What other SF/F/H writers offer us gender-expansive characters or societies? Why and when should gender matter?

Friday at 8:45 PM
Opening Ceremony: Meet the Guests
David G. Grubbs (M), Gay Ellen Dennett (M), Catherine Asaro, Mary Robinette Kowal, Craig Miller, Tamora Pierce, Marianne Plumridge, Nat Segaloff
Galleria – Stage · 15 min · Event
Welcome to Boskone, New England’s longest-running convention for science fiction, fantasy, and horror! Whether you are attending for the first time or the fifty-fifth, we invite you to join us in the Galleria to meet this year’s guests. Guest of Honor Mary Robinette Kowal will also say a few words acknowledging our departed friends, including SF icon Ursula K. Le Guin.

Saturday  at 12:00 NOON
A Wizard of Earthsea
Catherine Asaro, Vandana Singh, Robert V.S. Redick, Max Gladstone (M)
Harbor II · 60 min · Panel
Ursula K. Le Guin’s masterpiece was published 50 years ago. A classic coming-of-age story, A Wizard of Earthsea continues to cast its spell over teens and adults alike. Why is Ged such a compelling character? What makes the story as fresh and appealing today as in 1968? What does it have to say about words, magic, ambition, patience, truth, death? Our panelists share their insights — and favorite parts.

Sunday at 12:00 NOON
Women Who Write Science Fiction
LJ Cohen, Victoria Sandbrook (M), Catherine Asaro, Erin Roberts, Marianna Martin PhD
Marina 3 · 60 min · Panel
Mary Shelley, Leigh Brackett, Ursula K. Le Guin, Connie Willis, N. K. Jemisin — women have been in the thick of writing science fiction for a very long time. Let’s discuss some of their landmark publications that captured our imagination. Why do we love these stories? What works should we look for the next time we’re browsing the shelves?

~

As Boskone’s Head of Program this year, I hope you are able to share in some of these program items that acknowledge the work, life, and contributions of Ursula K. Le Guin. She was a force within the genre and her loss was felt throughout our community and beyond its borders. Many people have already shared their thoughts and feelings than I ever could upon hearing that Ursula had passed away. Since nothing I can say would be nearly as elegant or touching, I am sharing a short interview that Nancy Holder and I did with Ursula K. Le Guin in 2011 for our column in the SFWA Bulletin, which  focused on diversity in SF.

Diversity is a topic that has always been important to both Nancy and me. So, when we had the opportunity to talk with Ursula, we jumped at the chance because she has always included characters who were not white, and in some cases none of her characters were white. Given that covers don’t always reflect the characters within the story, we wanted to know what experiences she had with cover designs and diversity. Ursula responded without mincing words.

URSULA: I hardly know where to begin about covers. The most egregiously silly one was the first British Wizard of Earthsea, a Puffin paperback. Ged is a skinny, dead-white-skinned fellow in a nightgown in a drooping Pre-Raphaelite pose. You sort of have to laugh. Puffin did better later, but never was my bronze-skinned Ged shown as anything but white.

The only early Earthsea covers where everybody wasn’t white were the beautiful cover paintings Margaret Chodos-Irvine did for the joint Houghton-Mifflin/Atheneum hardcover set of the first four books — but that edition was a well-kept secret; it got no PR, and hardly anyone seems to have ever seen it.

As I got more clout, I began demanding cover approval, and sometimes got it, and sometimes it made a difference. Mostly my people are people of color, and mostly the cover picture whitewashes them. Dips them in the Clorox.

…[T]he arrogance of any illustrator or designer who insists on a right to contradict and thus betray [emphasis Ursula’s] the text is unforgivable. Especially when something as genuinely, morally important as skin color is involved.

When asked if  she had experienced any challenges portraying/including diversity in young adult fiction, she responded with an equally thoughtful answer.

URSULA: No. Partly because I have been very fortunate in my choice of agent and my luck in editors. Partly because during a good deal of my writing career there was no diversity bandwagon to hop on. And partly because right from the beginning, which would be in the late 1960’s, in my SF and fantasy books, at least one of the main characters was not white, and sometimes none of them where white. I made no big deal out of this–the societies in the books made no big deal out of it. That made it easier for the editor to just pass over it. (The problem came with the Cover Department–sheeeeesh–you want some growling and snarling about covers??) Making my main people brown, bronze, black, etc. (green once) and doing it quietly was a conscious and deliberate ploy. I was just so sick of thinking–What is it with this far future, or this alternate earth, where everybody is named Jim or Bob or Joe and is as white as Shirley Temple? I mean, what the hell?

I hope you will be able to join us at Boskone and that you too will have an opportunity to appreciate and celebrate one of the great women of science fiction. I also hope you have enjoyed these short interview answers from Ursula K. Le Guin. If you have time, please stop by the Maker’s Space in the Galleria and leave a note for Ursula in the Memory Book dedicated to her.

It is good to have an end to journey toward, but it is the journey that matters in the end.
– Ursula K. Le Guin

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