Tiptree 2016 Symposium Honors Ursula K. Le Guin

The second Tiptree Symposium was held this past weekend in Eugene, Oregon, where the University of Oregon houses one of the best feminist science fiction archives imaginable, including the papers of Ursula K. Le Guin, Joanna Russ, James Tiptree, Jr., Suzy McKee Charnas, and more. Last year, the symposium honored James Tiptree, Jr.; this year, the focus was Ursula K. Le Guin.


The Symposium was a fine celebration of Le Guin’s life and work.

The day before the Symposium started, Alexis Lothian, professor at the University of Maryland and Tiptree Award Motherboard member gave a Sally Miller Gearhart lecture in Lesbian Studies:  “Queer Longings in Straight Futures”in which she talked about three novels from the 1920s and 1930s, both how they are problematic and how they express coded queer/Lesbian desires.

Day 1 of the symposium featured a panel of (mostly) authors talking about Le Guin and Feminist Science Fiction. Participants were Vonda N. McIntyre (previous Award juror), Molly Gloss (previous winner and juror), Karen Joy Fowler (founding mother), Debbie Notkin (Motherboard member) and Suzy McKee Charnas (previous winner and juror). The panel was moderated by Julie Phillips, author of James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon. Ursula Le Guin was in the audience for the first day, and participated occasionally. The panel was largely a love poem to Le Guin and how her work and awareness and willingness to change have shaped us all, and so many others.

In the afternoon, four students (two graduate, two undergraduate) from Professor Edmond Chang’s class read passages that struck them from Le Guin’s The Word for World Is Forest, and discussed those passages, the book, and their relationships to science fiction and feminist science fiction. A dazzling array of posters from the class were also provided for Symposium attendees to look at.

Karen Joy Fowler gave a lyrical keynote speech in which she made strong connections between Ursula’s work and ways to look at the current political situation, ending with a call for how to think about plot in ways that are not hero-driven and war-focused.

At the end of the day, film-maker Arwen Curry treated us to the trailer for her forthcoming documentary Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin, which is in the editing phase and will have limited availability in 2017 and more general availability (quite possibly including theatrical release) in 2018.

Symposium participants walked over to the Knight Library, where an exhibit of materials from Le Guin’s papers was on display, including exchanges of letters with editors, Le Guin’s original drawings, family photographs, and more.

Read the Twitter Storify of Day 1.

Then the Tiptree Award hosted a party in a nearby hotel, where we had the pleasure of announcing our 2016 Fellowship winners: Mia Sereno and Porpentine Charity Heartscape, to thunderous applause.

The second day of programming was very exhilaratingly different from Day 1. The first panel, organized by Alexis Lothian, featured three transgender artists and scholars exploring their reactions to The Left Hand of Darkness, a novel Le Guin wrote to explore what would happen on a world largely without gender. The panelists, Tuesday Smillie, Aren Aizura, and micha cárdenas also explored some of Le Guin’s later examinations of her own 1969 novel, and did a remarkable job of appreciating the book while calling out its limitations and blind spots from their perspective. This may well be the first time that a group of trans and/or gender-fluid people have had a public forum to discuss this crucial work.

Immediately following that experience, we moved into a panel (curated by Joan Haran), in which Grace Dillon,of the Inishinaabe people, and adrienne maree brown, a Detroit activist and co-editor of Octavia’s Brood (with Walidah Imarisha) explored Le Guin’s The Dispossessed as a starting point to think about activism. In inspiring presentations, Dillon and brown both continued Karen Joy Fowler’s theme of decentering the individual and honoring group action.

In the afternoon, Kelly Sue DeConnick, who brought Captain Marvel/Carol Danvers into the 21st century and now creates Bitch Planet with Valentine deLandro, talked about her work in a context of her admiration for Le Guin. Then Brian Attebery(former juror) gave a stand-out keynote address on “The James Tiptree Book Club, or a Mitochondrial Theory of Literature” in which he drew great connections between many of the authors we know and love, He’s looking for a home for that speech, and we’ll let you know when it’s published.

The only disappointment was that Ursula Le Guin could only attend one day, and thus was not there to hear the Day 2 presentations, which might well have been more fresh and original to her than Day 1.

Read the Twitter Storify of Day 2.

When the University posts the audio transcripts of the panel, we’ll give you the links. We would be remiss if we didn’t thank the organizers, especially Linda Long of the University of Oregon libraries, and also Professor Carol Stabile, who was the mistress of ceremonies and also led us in an exploration of “what’s next” after Dr. Attebery’s speech.

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