Ursula K. Le Guin On ‘Starting Late’ as a Writer

LE GUIN: My mother had always wanted to write. She told me this only after she’d started writing. She waited until she got the kids out of the house, until she was free of responsibility for anybody except her husband. Very typical of her generation. She was in her fifties when she started writing—for kids, which is how women often start. It’s not threatening to anybody, including themselves. And she published a couple of lovely little kids’ books.

She wanted to write novels, and she did write a couple, but they never found a publisher. But what happened was that she got asked to write the biography of Ishi. Of course they asked my father and he said, No way, I cannot handle that story. He’d lived that story and didn’t want to write it. He wasn’t a reminiscer. He said, I think you might ask my wife, she’s a good writer. And they did, and she did it. So her first published adult book was a best seller, which was wonderful for her! She was in her sixties then. I would get letters from people who said, I read your mother’s book and it made me cry! That pleased her enormously. She would say, That’s what it was supposed to do.

It was also interesting because my mother and I were almost working together trying to get published.

INTERVIEWER: What an unusual beginning, for both of you.

LE GUIN: She beat me to it! Which is cool. Because I was late and slow. A slow learner. But not as late as her. I love to tell her story because people—particularly women—need to hear that you can start late. She figured she could put it off, which shocked the strong feminists of twenty or thirty years ago. I don’t know if anybody gets shocked anymore. But a lot of people don’t realize how strong the social pressure was on women.

Ursula K. Le Guin, in a Paris Review interview with John Wray.

Read the interview

Photo: laura-kali, Flickr