Category Archives: Literature

Remember This?? URSULA K. LEGUIN’s *Badass* Response to Syfy’s WhiteWashed EARTHSEA Adaptation?

Back in 2004, the Syfy (back then “The SciFi Channel“) released a miniseries “adaptation” of Ursula K. Le Guin‘s Earthsea trilogy, titled Legend of Earthsea

The main cast was entirely white, except for the character Ogion, who was played by Danny Glover (and apparently some spear-wielding primitives).  The problem with that isn’t just that there is a gross lack of diversity in the series (which is a completely legit problem on its own, and one that plagues science fiction entertainment today).

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The problem was that the series was based on books in which the majority of the characters were brown or black… (except for a people made up of brutish, war-hungry white men). The main character was described as “red-brown” and his best friend as just straight up “black”.

Somewhere this got conveniently “lost” in translation. Numerous readers (of every hue– I mean, the books freaking sold over a million copies!) were seriously miffed about many of the liberties taken in the series, and the lovely Ms. Le Guin stood up on the soap box herself and took SyFy to town in an article on Slate.

And boy did she lay down the law!

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Just look at the side-eye! She means business! (© 2012 Laura Anglin)

The first book of the Earthsea trilogy A Wizard of Earthsea was published on September 13th, 1968– 46 years ago today. So to commemorate this dope series, and her-geeky-outsiderness Ursula K. LeGuin, here are some of the gems from the magnificent shade she threw at the SciFi Channel some 10 years ago:

 

“I had been cut out of the process. And just as quickly, race, which had been a crucial element, had been cut out of my stories. In the miniseries, Danny Glover is the only man of color among the main characters (although there are a few others among the spear-carriers). A far cry from the Earthsea I envisioned.”

 

“My color scheme was conscious and deliberate from the start. I didn’t see why everybody in science fiction had to be a honky named Bob or Joe or Bill. I didn’t see why everybody in heroic fantasy had to be white (and why all the leading women had “violet eyes”). It didn’t even make sense. Whites are a minority on Earth now—why wouldn’t they still be either a minority, or just swallowed up in the larger colored gene pool, in the future?”

 

“I was a little wily about my color scheme. I figured some white kids (the books were published for “young adults”) might not identify straight off with a brown kid, so I kind of eased the information about skin color in by degrees—hoping that the reader would get “into Ged’s skin” and only then discover it wasn’t a white one.”

Boxed set cover art of the first three books in the "Earthsea" series, as issued in 1975. Artwork by Pauline Ellison.
Boxed set cover art of the first three books
in the “Earthsea” series, as issued in 1975.
Artwork by Pauline Ellison.

“Gradually I got a little more clout, a little more say-so about covers. And very, very, very gradually publishers may be beginning to lose their blind fear of putting a nonwhite face on the cover of a book. “Hurts sales, hurts sales” is the mantra. Yeah, so? On my books, Ged with a white face is a lie, a betrayal—a betrayal of the book, and of the potential reader.”

“I think it is possible that some readers never even notice what color the people in the story are. Don’t notice, don’t care. Whites of course have the privilege of not caring, of being “colorblind.” Nobody else does.”

 

Read the full article here

The best part of the article, though, and one of her best points, is that many readers of color wrote to her and let her know how important it was to them to feel included and see themselves represented as heroes in a genre that neglects them to an astonishing degree.

Race-bending characters in adaptations is really cool and can be really interesting. But in a genre (ahem… and an entire entertainment world) where characters of color are completely absent or never get to play hero, it’s something entirely different to take the color out of the picture…

In Case You Didn’t Know: Samuel Delany is OFFICIALLY a Grand Master of Sci-Fi

The award is formally known as the Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master Award, awarded by the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America for  ‘lifetime achievement in science fiction and/or fantasy.’ Samuel Delany was the  2013 winner, and he’s in good company, with former winners including Isaac Asimov, Ursula K. LeGuin, Connie Willis, and Harlan Ellison.

With two Hugo awards and four Nebula awards under his belt, there’s no doubt that Delany has well-earned recognition as a master of science fiction. Still, on winning the award, he humbly paid homage to the masters before him who deserve recognition:

“It recalls to me–with the awareness of mortality age ushers up–the extraordinary writers who did not live to receive it: Roger Zelazny, Joanna Russ, Thomas M. Disch, Octavia E. Butler–as well, from the generation before me, Katherine MacLean, very much alive. I accept the award for them, too: they are the stellar practitioners without whom my own work, dim enough, would have been still dimmer.” (via. SFWA)

If you don’t already know Samuel Delany’s work (and you’re looking for some of the most mind-blowing science fiction out there), you best get started. Here’s where we recommend you start:

dahlgrenDhalgren – One of his most difficult and most well-known works, Dhalgren follows the adventures of a young poet named Kid as he ventures into the heart of an American city run wild with poverty, criminality, violence, and insanity. As with many of his works, Dhalgren tackles issues of race, gender, class, and social inequality head on. It’s not the most accessible of his works, but the brain work is worth it, and worth the many rereads you’ll want to invest in.

 

 

 

starspocketgrainsStars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand – Two words. Space. Dragons. And if that doesn’t do it for you there’s a lot more awesome where that came from… This novel is a trip, like literally a trip… through a space crowded with the wildest of beings, and Delany gets into the grit and details of different cultures, traditions, and tongues, a universe full of peoples of different shapes, sizes, talons, and eating habits all struggling to survive and cope with the inconceivable massiveness and diversity of a universe consisting of thousands upon thousands of populated planets, peoples, and information. Forget world-building, this is universe-building. So if you’d rather wait on the tough stuff like Dhalgren, you can’t go wrong with Star in My Pocket. 

 

 

Happy Birthday, Zora Neale Hurston!

Author of four novels and several short stories, plays, and essays, including the classic masterpiece Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston was one of the most prominent literary figures of the Harlem Renaissance.

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And you might not know that she also rocks… literally. Hurtson had a deep interest in folklore, including song and dance. She spent much of her time researching them, and there are even recorded performances of her singing some of them, like the crow dance and song below!

Check her out!

Happy Birthday to Lebanese Poet Khalil Gibran

Khalil Gibran was a Lebanese poet most famous for the classic The Prophet, an incredible poem originally published in English in 1923. Born in Lebanon on January 6th, 1883, he immigrated to the United States but remained an advocate for peace and independence in the Middle East throughout his life. The Prophet is the third best-selling poem of all-time, according to The New Yorker, and understandably so! The man unleashes some serious wisdom in those stanzas! So happy birthday to a phenomenal poet, admirable advocate, and one seriously dapper dude (just look at him!)

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From The Prophet

“And what is it but fragments of your own
self you would discard that you may become
free?
If it is an unjust law you would abolish,
that law is written with your own hand
upon your own forehead.
You cannot erase it by burning your law
books nor by washing the foreheads of your
judges, though you pour the sea upon them.
And if it is a despot you would dethrone,
see first that his throne erected within you is
destroyed.
For how can a tyrant rule the free and
the proud, but for tyranny in their own
freedom and a shame in their own pride?”
Khalil Gibran, The Prophet, 1923