Alexander Chee for Guernica: You were about 16 when World War II ended, in your early twenties at the outbreak of the Korean War, and your first books appeared during the darkest years of Vietnam. How much do you think all of these wars have affected you as a writer? Are there moments that stand out?
Ursula K. Le Guin: Growing up during World War II certainly affected my whole view of life, but I hardly know how, it goes so deep. What’s hard to explain now is that, though we were never invaded, and bombed only once and ineffectively on the coast of Oregon, everybody in the country was in that war. Everything we did was influenced by it—eating, traveling, dressing, thinking—everything in daily life. Berkeley was under full blackout. Consider what that means: every window completely covered so that no light can shine out or in. Your house becomes a cave. For all the wars we’ve been in since, there has been nothing remotely like that. Nobody has had to give up anything or even suffer any inconvenience—except the soldiers, of course.
I know that nobody who hasn’t been in battle or under attack can know what war is. But even in terms of being safe at home, it’s also true that many Americans who think they know what being at war is, don’t. Including, of course, Bush and his people. They don’t have a clue.
So anyhow, I have that darkness deep and early in my life.
My science fiction novel The Word for World is Forest is clearly a Vietnam War book. Although my preference and tendency is always not to write allegorically and not to use material directly, the year I wrote that book I was in London, unable to protest my country’s increasing involvement by direct nonviolent action as I had been doing here. My frustrated anger and shame went pretty directly into the book.