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Ursula K. Le Guin’s 19th-century home in Portland, Oregon, is being repurposed by Literary Arts to host a writer’s residency

“Room in the Bag”

Ursula K. Le Guin’s 19th-century home in Portland, Oregon, is being repurposed by Literary Arts to host a writer’s residency

Ursula K. Le Guin’s house will be preserved as the home base for a residency. (Courtesy of Literary Arts)

If you’re intimidated by the heft of Ursula K. Le Guin’s books, may I suggest you start with her six-page essay, A Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction. There are few texts so electric—reading it for the first time was comparable to my first encounter with In Praise of Shadows by Jun’ichirō Tanizaki, which architects may be more familiar with. Le Guin, who died in 2018 at age 88, is a figure whose work turned worlds upside down, disrupted type and style, and radicalized many with seemingly little effort. Her stories are filled with softness, her mission was to make a room of one’s own in the hypersexualized, neon world of science fiction. “The Hero does not look well in this bag,” she wrote. “He needs a stage or a pedestal or a pinnacle. You put him in a bag and he looks like a rabbit, like a potato. That is why I like novels: instead of heroes they have people in them.”

Ursula K. Le Guin’s writing corner, to be preserved for future cohorts of residents. (Courtesy Literary Arts)

Le Guin penned many of her radical novels about shared futures from her home studio in Northwest Portland, Oregon, before her death six years ago. Before she passed, she and her family had already been in conversation with Literary Arts, an Oregon nonprofit, about her home’s future, and ultimately Le Guin’s legacy.

redwood tree outside house
Le Guin planted a redwood tree at the house upon her arrival in the 1960s, a species that reminded her of her roots in Northern California. (Courtesy Literary Arts)

The Portland home was built in 1899 from a Sears & Roebuck catalog plan, but Ursula and her husband moved in a few generations later in the 1960s. Outside, Le Guin planted a redwood tree because it reminded her of her Northern California roots, a home landscape that figures strongly in many of her novels like Always Coming Home. But inside, she had her dedicated space for creating. In Carrier Bag Theory, she analyzed the work-life balance of prehistoric peoples, the hunter-gathers we’ve all descended from. “The average prehistoric person could make a nice living in about a 15-hour work week. Fifteen hours a week for subsistence leaves a lot of time for other things.”

One could read this as her answer to Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own. But all in all, it seems that women want one thing: time, space, and peace in which to create—plus some extra hours for the seeds yet to be gathered.

Le Guin’s home
Le Guin’s home was constructed in the 19th century from a Sears & Roebuck catalog kit. (Courtesy Literary Arts)

So it’s deliciously fitting that the Le Guin family recently announced its plan to donate the house to Literary Arts and establish a new writers residency there, the Ursula K. Le Guin Writers Residency. The house itself will be preserved, and they are raising funds for its maintenance and renovation (if you’d like to get involved).

 

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“We have always felt a strong connection to Literary Arts and its mission to support diverse voices and build an empathetic, empowered and inclusive community of writers,” said Theo Downes-Le Guin, literary executor and Ursula’s son. “Although Ursula’s reputation is international, she focused much of her energy on the local community of writers, libraries and literary organizations. So it’s fitting that this residency, ambitious in the breadth of writers it will reach, will be rooted in the house and city she loved and lived in for more than a half century.”

Downes-Le Guin stated he envisions the residency to “feel inclusive, available to a wide range of authors, and selective,” but details about the home’s renovation schedule and the residency’s start date have not yet been released—though an emphasis on improving site accessibility has been shared. While it will welcome writers from around the world, particular emphasis will be placed on those residing in the western U.S., and residents will engage meaningfully with the local Portland community. Residents will be selected by an advisory council made up of literary professionals as well as one Le Guin family member.

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