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Ursula Le Guin’s Blue Moon Over Thurman Street

January 24, 2018

This morning I heard the news of Ursula Le Guin’s death, or perhaps it is more accurate to say I saw it: her face, and the covers of her books, and images in tribute on social media. Le Guin wrote immersively of fantasy worlds. The islands of Earthsea floated in their ocean, but also in her readers’ imaginations. Transferred between this world and ours was her wisdom.

A few years ago I found a different kind of Ursula le Guin book, the nonfiction book Blue Moon Over Thurman Street, written in collaboration with photographer Roger Dorband. The book was $1 and I’d found it poked in among the cookbooks and outdated travel guides of the nonfiction shelf of a Salvation Army op shop. I first had to check it was the Ursula Le Guin, because it was so unlike the books she is known for. It was a book that, in photographs and poetry, told the story of a street: Thurman Street in Portland, Oregon, where Le Guin lived.

“To walk a street is to be told a story,” she writes in the introduction. Over the decades she’d walked along Thurman Street – a long straight street of 45 blocks, which starts at the river and ends in the forest of Macleay Park – she noticed its daily changes and then its larger ones, as the gentrification of the late 1980s took hold. But she wanted to capture “not the losses and gains but the permanence” of the place. She worked with photographer Roger Dorband, responding to his photographs. Some photos she’d asked him to take, others he took as he walked Thurman Street. “Roger’s Thurman Street is bluer and darker and bleaker than mine; it has more cars and more power lines. My street has more kids, cats, dogs and housewives than his.” Together, they documented the moments through which, Le Guin writes, is “the only way to catch permanence”.

It’s a book with a light touch, for all the depth of place and time it covers. Le Guin’s handwritten texts alongside the photos are like captured thoughts, and interspersed with them are stories from neighbours, and sections from the Bhagavad Gita, “which in its austere tenderness acknowledges all chance and change, including them in stillness”. Additionally, Dorband’s notes on the photographs at the end of the book tell the stories of how they came into being, take us into the energy of each moment.

I’ll look through this book today, with its shadows and windows and people caught mid-step, and think about Le Guin walking here throughout her long life, her thoughts in the moment, or in worlds elsewhere.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. David permalink
    June 18, 2018 12:48 am

    Ursula. My first SF writer. Left Hand of Darkness when i was little thirteen year old squirt. Seems like a dozen lifetimes ago. I still have all of my 70s and 80s paperbacks from her. Thought her 90s-21stC books were so dull by comparison. A true giant of the genre. A clear inspiration to Iain Banks, another loss to the ravages of life.

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