Late author Ursula K. Le Guin's home to become a writers' residency


Author Ursula K. Le Guin poses for a photo at home in Portland on Sept 9, 2001. Le Guin’s family has donated their three-story house to the Portland, Oregon-based community nonprofit for what will become the Ursula K. Le Guin Writers Residency. Le Guin, the award-winning science fiction and fantasy writer who explored feminist themes and was best known for her Earthsea books, died Jan. 22, 2018, at 88. — Photo: AP/Benjamin Brink/The Oregonian

Theo Downes-Le Guin, son of the late author Ursula K. Le Guin, remembers well the second-floor room where his mother worked on some of her most famous novels.

Or at least how it seemed from the outside.

"She was very present and accessible as a parent,” he says. "She was very intent on not burdening her children with her career. ... But the times when she was in there to do her writing, we knew that we needed to let her have her privacy.”

Downes-Le Guin, who also serves as his mother's literary executor, now hopes to give contemporary authors access to her old writing space. Literary Arts, a community nonprofit based in Portland, Oregon, announced Monday that Le Guin's family had donated their three-story house for what will become the Ursula K. Le Guin Writers Residency.

Le Guin, who died in 2018 at age 88, was a Berkeley, California, native who in her early 30s moved to Portland with her husband, Charles. Le Guin wrote such classics as The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed in her home, mostly in a corner space that evolved from a nursery for her three children to a writing studio.

"Our conversations with Ursula and her family began in 2017,” the executive director of Literary Arts, Andrew Proctor, said in a statement. "She had a clear vision for her home to become a creative space for writers and a beacon for the broader literary community.”

No date has been set for when the residency will begin. Literary Arts has launched a fundraising campaign for maintaining the house and for operating an office in town.

The Le Guins lived in a 19th century house designed out of a Sears & Roebuck catalog, and the author's former studio looks out on a garden, a towering redwood tree planted decades ago by the family, and, in the distance, Mount St. Helens. Downes-Le Guin does not want the house to seem like a museum, or a time capsule, but expects that reminders of his mother, from her books to her rock collection, will remain.

While writers in residence will be welcome to use her old writing room, the author's son understands if some might feel "intimidated” to occupy the same space as one the world's most celebrated authors.

"I wouldn't want anyone to be in there in this constant state of reverence, which would be against the spirit of the residency,” he says.

According to Literary Arts, residents will be chosen by an advisory council that will include "literary professionals” and a Le Guin family member. Writers "will be asked to engage with the local community in a variety of literary activities, such as community-wide readings and workshops.” The residency will be year-round, with a single writer at a time living in the house. The length of individual residencies will vary, as some writers may have family or work obligations that would limit their availability. Downes-Le Guin says he wants the residency to feel inclusive, available to a wide range of authors, and selective.

"We don't want it just to be for authors who already have had residencies elsewhere,” he says. "But we'll want applicants to demonstrate that they're seriously engaged in the work. We want people who will make the most of this.” – AP

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