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Crafting with Ursula : William Alexander on Writing for Children

“People who deny the existence of dragons are often eaten by them,” says Ursula K. Le Guin. “From within.” This is just one of many quotes that arise from Le Guin’s high regard for the child reader and for the unique intelligence of children. Her philosophy around the importance of the imagination and of imaginative fiction is also rooted in this regard for children. Le Guin’s respect for their unique intelligence, on its own terms, connects to many of her other concerns as well, whether ecological, political, cosmological, or literary. So we are lucky today to have National Book Award–winning children’s author William Alexander on Crafting with Ursula. Le Guin not only held his work in high regard, but they reviewed each other, became friends, and corresponded. Alexander himself has thought deeply about the longstanding fear of the imagination, and how it is playing out today, whether in schools, with the battles for what is considered acceptable literature or acceptable history to teach, or in relation to “the other,” the fear of the stranger, the fear of the nonhuman, the fear of that which is both real and true and something we can’t understand.

For the bonus audio archive Will contributes a description of his playful and theatrical writing exercise called “Smoke.” An associative nonlinear technique, “Smoke” is something he uses to either create or develop characters in his stories to help them come alive on the page. This joins bonus audio from many past guests, from Daniel José Older and Ted Chiang to Carmen Maria Machado and N. K. Jemisin. You can find out how to subscribe to the bonus audio and check out all the other potential rewards of becoming a listener-supporter, from Le Guin collectibles to becoming an early reader for Tin House, receiving twelve books over the course of a year months before they are available to the general public, at the show’s Patreon page.

Finally, here is the Bookshop for today’s episode, including the books discussed today by both Le Guin and Alexander.