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Posts Tagged ‘in memoriam’

RIP Vonda N. McIntyre

I saw this news several hours ago, but didn’t want it to come across as a terrible attempt at an April Fool’s joke. Vonda N. McIntyre, one of the founding members of Book View Cafe, has passed away. She was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer two months ago. The news of her illness rocked everyone at BVC; Vonda was a bedrock of our organization, and we’re still figuring out how many of us it will take to fill the gap she leaves behind.

I never had the pleasure of meeting her in person, but she was the beta-reader for my New Worlds collections — a wonderful mix of encouragement and suggestions. And, of course, she was an amazing writer; tributes to her work are popping up all over the place. We will all miss her greatly.

In Memoriam Ursulae

Not long after I moved to the Bay Area, I attended the Potlatch convention. Ursula Le Guin was the Guest of Honor that year, and one day as I arrived I saw her walking across the lobby toward the dealers’ room . . . with a videographer trailing along behind her.

Well, crap, I thought. I really wanted to talk to her — but it’s hard enough walking up to URSULA K. LE GUIN out of the blue and saying “hi” without somebody on hand to document the entire thing. And for all I knew they were in the middle of doing something where they wouldn’t welcome a random stranger interrupting it.

A few minutes later, I wandered into the dealers’ room. She was there; so was the videographer. I loitered to one side. I watched as she browsed the tables, and as everybody else in the room eddied out of her way — out of frame, they probably hoped. I’m not sure whether anyone there had any better idea what was going on than I did, but it was clear I wasn’t the only one who felt super-awkward.

I waited. I pretended to browse.

The videographer put their camera down.

It’s now or never.

I drifted over to Le Guin, took my courage in both hands, and introduced myself. And I told her that she was the reason I’d gone to grad school to study science fiction and fantasy.

“I’m sorry,” she said with a laugh.

It’s true, though: her book The Language of the Night was the first thing that made me realize, hey, science fiction and fantasy are a thing you can think about. Like, critically. And not just in a lit-crit way, but in the ways I was familiar with, the anthropological side. I didn’t know at the time that I would wind up writing papers about role-playing games, but I knew that I’d never figured out what I might want to do if I went to grad school in archaeology, and now I had the answer to that question in the neighboring field of cultural anthropology. Or folklore. Or both. (It wound up being both.)

So I told her I was an anthropologist and that I’d heard about her parents, particularly her father, in my classes (which was true). I told her that I deeply admired the way anthropology informed her work, and that I aimed for it to do something similar in mine. We didn’t talk for very long — I didn’t want to dominate her time or, y’know, wind up babbling about nothing — but I got to tell her the impact she’d had on my life. (And may have even remembered to say that the review which compared my first-ever published short story to her work was one of the most flattering I’d ever received.)

And then I turned around and found the videographer was filming us. Of course. >_<

I still don’t know what that was for. Possibly the documentary somebody has apparently been working on for the last decade? I didn’t ask; I just fled. But I walked away glad that I had spoken to Le Guin — even if I was caught on camera doing it — because I haven’t gotten to speak to most of the authors who shaped my life. Frances Hodgson Burnett died in 1924. The D’aulaires, in the ’80s. Diana Wynne Jones died in 2011, and I regret that I never made the effort to attend a UK convention where I might have been able to meet her. (I did get to send a message to her via Sharyn November for her, hmmm, I think 75th birthday?) But I had the chance to tell Ursula Le Guin the effect she had on this particular writer and academic.

We will miss her.