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Ursula K. Le Guin

Ursula Kroeber Le Guin (/ˈkrbər lə ˈɡwɪn/;[1] October 21, 1929 – January 22, 2018) was an American novelist. She worked mainly in the genres of fantasy and science fiction, and authored children's books, short stories, poetry, and essays. Her writing was first published in the 1960s and often depicted futuristic or imaginary alternative worlds in politics, the natural environment, gender, religion, sexuality, and ethnography. In 2016, The New York Times described her as "America's greatest living science fiction writer",[2] although she said that she would prefer to be known as an "American novelist".[3]

Ursula K. Le Guin
Le Guin at a reading in Danville, California, 2008
Le Guin at a reading in Danville, California, 2008
BornUrsula Kroeber
(1929-10-21)October 21, 1929
Berkeley, California, U.S.
DiedJanuary 22, 2018(2018-01-22) (aged 88)
Portland, Oregon, U.S.
Alma materRadcliffe College (B.A.)
Columbia University (M.A.)
Periodc. 1962–2018
GenreScience fiction, fantasy
Notable worksEarthsea series
The Left Hand of Darkness
Charles Le Guin (m. 1953)

She influenced Booker Prize winners and other writers, such as Salman Rushdie and David Mitchell, and science fiction and fantasy writers including Neil Gaiman and Iain Banks.[4] She won the Hugo Award, Nebula Award, Locus Award, and World Fantasy Award, each more than once.[4][5] In 2014, she was awarded the National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters.[6] In 2003, she was made a Grandmaster of Science Fiction, one of a few women writers to take the top honor in the genre.[7]



Childhood and educationEdit

Alfred Kroeber with Ishi in 1911

Ursula K. Le Guin was born Ursula Kroeber in Berkeley, California, on October 21, 1929. Her father Alfred Louis Kroeber was an anthropologist at the University of California, Berkeley.[8][9] Le Guin's mother Theodora Kroeber had a graduate degree in psychology, but turned to writing in her sixties. She developed a successful career as an author: her best known work was Ishi in Two Worlds, a biographical volume about Ishi, an indigenous American who was the last known member of the Yahi tribe.[10][8]

Ursula had three older brothers, Karl, Theodore, and Clifton.[11][12] The family had a large book collection, and the siblings all became interested in reading while they were young.[11] The Kroeber family also had a number of visitors, who included well-known academics such as Robert Oppenheimer: Le Guin would later use Oppenheimer as the model for her protagonist in The Dispossessed.[11][10] The family divided its time between a summer home in the Napa valley, and a house in Berkeley during the academic year.[10]

Le Guin's reading included science fiction and fantasy: she and her siblings frequently read issues of Thrilling Wonder Stories and Astounding Science Fiction. She was fond of myths and legends, particularly Norse mythology, and of Native American legends that her father would narrate. Other authors she enjoyed were Lord Dunsany and Lewis Padgett.[11] Le Guin also developed an early interest in writing; she wrote a short story when she was nine, and submitted her first short story to Astounding Science Fiction when she was eleven. The piece was rejected, and she did not submit anything else for another ten years.[13][14][15]

Le Guin attended Berkeley High School.[16] She received her Bachelor of Arts in Renaissance French and Italian literature from Radcliffe College in 1951, and graduated as a member of the Phi Beta Kappa honor society.[17] As a child she had been interested in biology and poetry, but had been limited in her opportunities by her difficulties with mathematics.[17] Le Guin undertook graduate studies at Columbia University, and earned a Master of Arts in French in 1952.[18] Soon after, she began working towards a Ph.D., and won a Fulbright grant to continue her studies in France from 1953 to 1954.[18][10]

Marriage and later lifeEdit

In 1953, while traveling to France aboard the Queen Mary, Le Guin met historian Charles Le Guin.[18] They got married in Paris in December 1953.[19] According to Le Guin, the marriage signaled the "end of the doctorate" for her.[18] While her husband finished his doctorate at Emory University in Georgia, and later at the University of Idaho, Le Guin taught French and worked as a secretary until the birth of her daughter Elisabeth in 1957.[19] In 1959 Charles became an instructor in history at Portland State University, and the couple moved to Portland, Oregon.[18] They would remain there for the rest of their lives,[20] although Le Guin received further Fulbright grants to travel to London in 1968 and 1975.[10] The couple had two daughters, Elisabeth and Caroline, by the time they moved, and a son, Theodore, was born in Portland in 1964.[18]

Le Guin's writing career began in the late 1950s, but the time she spent caring for her children constrained her writing schedule.[18] She would continue writing and publishing for more than 50 years, until her death.[20] She was also an editor and a teacher at the undergraduate level. She served on the editorial boards of the journals Paradoxa and Science Fiction Studies, in addition to writing literary criticism herself.[21] She taught courses at Tulane University, Bennington College, and Stanford University, among others.[20][22]

Le Guin died on January 22, 2018, at her home in Portland, Oregon at the age of 88. Her son stated that she had been in poor health for several months. He gave no specific cause for her death,[9] but said it was likely that she had had a heart attack. She was survived by her husband Charles and her three children.[23] Private memorial services for her were held in Portland.[23] A public memorial service, which included speeches by Margaret Atwood, Molly Gloss, and Walidah Imarisha, was held in Portland in June 2018.[24][25]

Views and advocacyEdit

I think hard times are coming when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now and can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies. We will need writers who can remember freedom. Poets, visionaries—the realists of a larger reality.

—Ursula K. Le Guin[26]

Le Guin refused a Nebula Award for her story "The Diary of the Rose" in 1975, in protest at the Science Fiction Writers of America's revocation of Stanisław Lem's membership. Le Guin attributed the revocation to Lem's criticism of American science fiction and willingness to live in the Soviet Union, and said she felt reluctant to receive an award "for a story about political intolerance from a group that had just displayed political intolerance".[27][28] In December 2009, Le Guin resigned from the Authors Guild in protest over its endorsement of Google's book digitization project. "You decided to deal with the devil", she wrote in her resignation letter. "There are principles involved, above all the whole concept of copyright; and these you have seen fit to abandon to a corporation, on their terms, without a struggle."[29][30] In a speech at the 2014 National Book Awards, Le Guin criticized Amazon and the control it exerted over the publishing industry, specifically referencing Amazon's treatment of the Hachette Book Group during a dispute over ebook publication. Her speech received widespread media attention within and outside the US, and was broadcast twice by National Public Radio.[26][31][32]

Chronology of writingsEdit

Early workEdit

Le Guin's first published work was the poem "Folksong from the Montayna Province" in 1959, while her first short story was "An die Musik", in 1961; both were set in her fictional country of Orsinia.[33][34] Between 1951 and 1961 she also wrote five novels, all set in Orsinia, which were rejected by publishers on the grounds that they were inaccessible. Some of her poetry from this period was published in 1975 in the volume Wild Angels.[35] Le Guin turned her attention to science fiction after lengthy periods of receiving rejections from publishers, knowing that there was a market for writing that could be readily classified as such.[36] Her first professional publication was the short story "April in Paris" in 1962 in Fantastic Science Fiction,[37] and four other stories followed in the next few years, in Fantastic or Amazing Stories.[36] Among them was The Dowry of the Angyar, which introduced the fictional Hainish Universe,[38] and "The Rule of Names" and "The Word of Unbinding", which introduced the world of Earthsea.[39] These stories were largely ignored by critics.[36]

Ace Books released Rocannon's World, Le Guin's first published novel in 1966. Two more Hainish novels, Planet of Exile and City of Illusions were published in 1966 and 1967, respectively, and the three books together would come to be known as the Hainish trilogy.[40] The first two were published as half of an "Ace Double": two novels bound into a paperback and sold as a single low-cost volume.[40] City of Illusions was published as a standalone volume, indicating Le Guin's greater name-recognition. These books received more critical attention than Le Guin's short stories, with reviews being published in several science fiction magazines, but the critical response was still muted.[40] The books contained many themes and ideas also present in Le Guin's better known later works, including the "archetypal journey", cultural contact and communication, the search for identity, and reconciling opposing forces.[41]

Critical attentionEdit

Le Guin's next two books brought her sudden and widespread critical acclaim. A Wizard of Earthsea, published in 1968, was a fantasy novel written initially for teenagers.[14] Le Guin had not planned to write for young adults, but was asked to write a novel targeted at this group by the editor of Parnassus Press, who saw it as a market with great potential.[42][43] A coming of age story set in the fictional archipelago of Earthsea, the book received a positive reception in both the US and Britain.[44][42]

Le Guin with writer Harlan Ellison at Westercon in Portland, Oregon, 1984

Her next novel, The Left Hand of Darkness, was a Hainish Universe story exploring themes of gender and sexuality on a fictional planet where humans have no fixed sex.[45] According to scholar Donna White, the book "stunned the science fiction critics"; it won both the Hugo and the Nebula Awards for best novel, making Le Guin the first woman to win these awards, and a number of other accolades.[46][47] A Wizard of Earthsea and The Left Hand of Darkness were described by critic Harold Bloom as Le Guin's masterpieces.[14] The novel was also a personal milestone for Le Guin: critics described it as her "first contribution to feminism".[48] She won the Hugo Award again in 1973 for The Word for World is Forest, which Le Guin later described as the "most overt political statement" she had made in a fictional work.[49] The fiction of the period 1966 to 1974, which also included the Hugo Award-winning "The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas" and the Nebula Award-winning "The Day Before the Revolution",[50] has been described by scholar Elizabeth Cummins as Le Guin's best-known body of work.[51]

Le Guin continued to develop themes of equilibrium and coming-of-age in the next two installments of the Earthsea series, The Tombs of Atuan and The Farthest Shore, published in 1971 and 1972, respectively.[52] Both books were praised for their writing, while the exploration of death as a theme in The Farthest Shore also drew praise.[53] Her 1974 novel The Dispossessed, also won both the Hugo and the Nebula awards for best novel, making her the first person to win both for the same two books.[54] Also set in the Hainish Universe, the story explored anarchism and utopianism. Scholar Charlotte Spivack described it as representing a shift in Le Guin's science fiction towards discussing political ideas.[55][56]

Wider explorationEdit

Le Guin published a variety of work in the second half of the 1970s. This included speculative fiction in the form of the collection The Wind's Twelve Quarters,[57] and the novel The Eye of the Heron.[58] She also published Very Far Away from Anywhere Else, a realistic novel for adolescents,[59] as well as the collection Orsinian Tales and the novel Malafrena in 1976 and 1979, respectively. Though the latter two were set in the fictional country of Orsinia, the stories were realistic fiction rather than fantasy or science fiction.[60] The Language of the Night, a collection of essays, was released in 1979,[61] and Le Guin also published Wild Angels, a volume of poetry, in 1975.[62]

Between 1979, when she published Malafrena, and 1994, when the collection A Fisherman of the Inland Sea was released, Le Guin wrote primarily for a younger audience.[63] She released The Beginning Place, an adolescent fantasy novel, in 1980,[63][64][65] and the experimental Always Coming Home in 1985.[66] She wrote 11 children's picture books, including the Catwings series, between 1979 and 1994, along with four more poetry collections, all of which were positively received.[63][62] She also revisited Earthsea, publishing Tehanu in 1992: coming eighteen years after The Farthest Shore, during which Le Guin's views had developed considerably, the book was grimmer in tone than the earlier works in the series, and challenged some ideas presented therein; nonetheless, it received critical praise.[67] In May 1983 she delivered a commencement address entitled "A Left-Handed Commencement Address" at Mills College in Oakland, California.[68] It is listed as  No. 82 in American Rhetoric's Top 100 Speeches of the 20th Century,[69] and was included in her nonfiction collection Dancing at the Edge of the World.[70]

Later writingsEdit

Le Guin returned to the Hainish Cycle in the 1990s after a lengthy hiatus with the publication of a series of short stories, beginning with "The Shobies' Story" in 1990.[71] These stories included "Coming of Age in Karhide" (1995), described by scholar Sandra Lindow as "so transgressively sexual and so morally courageous" that Le Guin "could not have written it in the '60s".[71] In the same year she published the story suite Four Ways to Forgiveness, and followed it up with "Old Music and the Slave Women", a fifth, connected, story in 1999. All of the stories explored freedom and rebellion within a slave society.[72] In 2000 she published The Telling, which would be her final Hainish novel.[73][74]

From 2002 onwards several collections and anthologies of Le Guin's work were published. A series of her stories from the period 1994–2002 was released in 2002 in the collection The Birthday of the World and Other Stories, along with the novella Paradises Lost.[75] The volume examined unconventional ideas about gender, as well as anarchist themes.[76][77][78] Other collections included Changing Planes, also released in 2002,[73] while the anthologies included The Unreal and the Real (2012),[73] and a two-volume set of the Hainish novels and stories released by the Library of America.[79]

Other works from this period included Lavinia (2008), based on a character from Virgil's Aeneid,[80] and the Annals of the Western Shore trilogy, consisting of Gifts (2004), Voices (2006), and Powers (2007).[81] Although Annals of the Western Shore was written for an adolescent audience, the third volume Powers received the Nebula Award for Best Novel in 2009.[81][82] Le Guin's final publication, in September 2018, was a collection of non-fiction, titled Dreams Must Explain Themselves, which was released shortly after her death.[73][83][84]

Style and influencesEdit


Once I learned to read, I read everything. I read all the famous fantasies – Alice in Wonderland, and Wind in the Willows, and Kipling. I adored Kipling's Jungle Book. And then when I got older I found Lord Dunsany. He opened up a whole new world – the world of pure fantasy. And ... Worm Ouroboros. Again, pure fantasy. Very, very fattening. And then my brother and I blundered into science fiction when I was 11 or 12. Early Asimov, things like that. But that didn't have too much effect on me. It wasn't until I came back to science fiction and discovered Sturgeon – but particularly Cordwainer Smith. ... I read the story "Alpha Ralpha Boulevard", and it just made me go, "Wow! This stuff is so beautiful, and so strange, and I want to do something like that."

—Ursula K. Le Guin[85]

Le Guin read both classic and speculative fiction widely as a child. She later said that science fiction did not have much impact on her until she read the works of Theodore Sturgeon and Cordwainer Smith, and that she had sneered at science fiction as a child.[86][85] Authors Le Guin describes as influential include Victor Hugo, William Wordsworth, Charles Dickens, Boris Pasternak, and Philip K. Dick. Le Guin and Dick attended the same high-school, but did not know each other; Le Guin later described her novel The Lathe of Heaven as a homage to him.[87][13][86][88] She also considered J. R. R. Tolkien and Leo Tolstoy to be stylistic influences, and preferred reading Virginia Woolf and Jorge Luis Borges to well-known science-fiction authors such as Robert Heinlein, whose writing she described as being of the "white man conquers the universe" tradition.[4] Several scholars state that the influence of mythology, which Le Guin enjoyed reading as a child, is also visible in much of her work: for example, the short story The Dowry of the Angyar is described as a retelling of a Norse myth.[13][89]

The discipline of cultural anthropology had a powerful influence on Le Guin's writing.[90] Her father Alfred Kroeber is considered a pioneer in the field, and was a director of the University of California Museum of Anthropology: as a consequence of his research, Le Guin was exposed to anthropology and cultural exploration as a child. In addition to myths and legends, she read such volumes as The Leaves of the Golden Bough by Lady Frazer, a children's book adapted from The Golden Bough, a study of myth and religion by her husband James George Frazer.[90][91][49] She described living with her father's friends and acquaintances as giving her the experience of the other.[86] The experiences of Ishi, in particular, were influential on Le Guin, and elements of his story have been identified in works such as Planet of Exile, City of Illusions, and The Word for World Is Forest and The Dispossessed.[49]

Several scholars have commented that Le Guin's writing was influenced by Carl Jung, and specifically by the idea of Jungian archetypes.[92][93] In particular, the shadow in A Wizard of Earthsea is seen as the Shadow archetype from Jungian psychology, representing Ged's pride, fear, and desire for power.[94][95][96] Le Guin discussed her interpretation of this archetype, and her interest in the dark and repressed parts of the psyche, in a 1974 lecture.[95] She stated elsewhere that she had never read Jung before writing the first Earthsea books.[94][95] Other archetypes, including the Mother, animus, and anima, have also been identified in Le Guin's writing.[92]

Philosophical Taoism had a large role in Le Guin's world view,[97] and the influence of Taoist thought can be seen in many of her stories.[98][99] Many of Le Guin's protagonists, including in The Lathe of Heaven, embody the Taoist ideal of leaving things alone. The anthropologists of the Hainish Universe try not to meddle with the cultures they encounter, while one of the earliest lessons Ged learns in A Wizard of Earthsea is not to use magic unless it is absolutely necessary.[99] Another prominent Taoist idea is the reconciliation of opposites such as light and dark, or good and evil. A number of Hainish novels, The Dispossessed prominent among them, explored such a process of reconciliation.[100] In the Earthsea universe, it is not the dark powers, but the characters' misunderstanding of the balance of life, that is depicted as evil,[101] in contrast to conventional Western stories in which good and evil are in constant conflict.[102][103]

Genre and styleEdit

Although Le Guin is primarily known for her works of speculative fiction, she also wrote realistic fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and several other literary forms, and White states that her work is difficult to classify.[104] Her writings received critical attention from mainstream critics, critics of children's literature, and critics of speculative fiction.[104] Le Guin herself said that she would prefer to be known as an "American novelist".[3] Several of her works have a premise drawn from sociology, psychology, or philosophy.[105][106] As a result, Le Guin's writing is often described as "soft" science fiction, and she has been described as the "patron saint" of this sub-genre.[107][108] A number of science fiction authors have objected to the term "soft science fiction", describing it as a potentially pejorative term used to dismiss stories not based on problems in physics, astronomy, or engineering, and also to target the writing of women or other groups under-represented in the genre.[109] Le Guin suggested the term "social science fiction" for some of her writing, while pointing out that many of her stories were not science fiction at all. She argued that the term "soft science fiction" was divisive, and implied a narrow view of what constitutes valid science fiction.[15]

The influence of anthropology can be seen in the setting Le Guin chose for a number of her works. Several of her protagonists are anthropologists or ethnologists exploring a world alien to them.[110] This is particularly true in the stories set in the Hainish universe, an alternative reality in which humans did not evolve on Earth, but on Hain. The Hainish subsequently colonized many planets, before losing contact with them, giving rise to varied but related biology and social structure.[110][49] Examples include Rocannon in Rocannon's World and Genly Ai in The Left Hand of Darkness. Other characters, such as Shevek in The Dispossessed become cultural observers in the course of their journeys on other planets.[111][90] Le Guin's writing often examines alien cultures, and particularly the human cultures from planets other than Earth in the Hainish Universe.[110] In discovering these "alien" worlds, Le Guin's protagonists, and by extension the readers, also journey into themselves, and challenge the nature of what they consider "alien" and what they consider "native".[112]

Several of Le Guin's works have featured stylistic or structural features that were unusual or subversive. The heterogeneous structure of The Left Hand of Darkness, described as "distinctly post-modern", was unusual for the time of its publication.[45] This was in marked contrast to the structure of (primarily male-authored) traditional science fiction, which was straightforward and linear.[113] The novel was framed as part of a report sent to the Ekumen by the protagonist Genly Ai after his time on the planet Gethen, thus suggesting that Ai was selecting and ordering the material.[114] Ai narrates ten chapters in the first person; the rest are made up of extracts from a personal diary and ethnological reports from an earlier observer, interspersed with Gethenian myths and legends.[114]

A number of Le Guin's writings, including the Earthsea series, challenged the conventions of epic fantasies and myths. Many of the protagonists in Earthsea were dark-skinned individuals, in comparison to the white-skinned heroes more traditionally used; some of the antagonists, in contrast, were white-skinned, a switching of race roles that has been remarked upon by multiple critics.[115][116] In a 2001 interview, Le Guin attributed the frequent lack of character illustrations on her book covers to her choice of non-white protagonists. She explained this choice, saying: "most people in the world aren't white. Why in the future would we assume they are?"[49] Her 1985 book Always Coming Home, described as "her great experiment", included a story told from the perspective of a young protagonist, but also included poems, rough drawings of plants and animals, myths, and anthropological reports from the matriarchal society of the Kesh, a fictional people living in the Napa valley after a catastrophic global flood.[66][73]


Gender and sexualityEdit

Gender and sexuality are prominent themes in a number of Le Guin's works. The Left Hand of Darkness, published in 1969, was among the first books in the genre now known as feminist science fiction, and is the most famous examination of androgyny in science fiction.[117] The story is set on the fictional planet of Gethen, whose inhabitants are ambisexual humans with no fixed gender identity, who adopt female or male sexual characteristics for brief periods of their sexual cycle.[118] Which sex they adopt can depend on context and relationships.[119] Gethen was portrayed as a society without war, as a result of this absence of fixed gender characteristics, and also without sexuality as a continuous factor in social relationships.[118][48] Gethenian culture was explored in the novel through the eyes of a Terran, whose masculinity proves a barrier to cross-cultural communication.[48] Outside the Hainish cycle, Le Guin's use of a female protagonist in The Tombs of Atuan, published in 1971, was described as a "significant exploration of womanhood".[120]

Le Guin's attitude towards gender and feminism evolved considerably over time.[121] Although The Left Hand of Darkness was seen as a landmark exploration of gender, it also received criticism for not going far enough. Reviewers pointed to its usage of masculine gender pronouns to describe its androgynous characters,[45] the lack of androgynous characters portrayed in stereotypical feminine roles,[122] and the portrayal of heterosexuality as the norm on Gethen.[123] Le Guin's portrayal of gender in Earthsea was also described as perpetuating the notion of a male-dominated world.[124][125] Le Guin initially defended her writing; in a 1976 essay "Is Gender Necessary?" she wrote that gender was secondary to the novel's primary theme of loyalty. Le Guin revisited this essay in 1988, and acknowledged that gender was central to the novel;[45] she also apologized for depicting Gethenians solely in heterosexual relationships.[123]

Le Guin responded to these critiques in her subsequent writing. She intentionally used feminine pronouns for all sexually latent Gethenians in her 1995 short story "Coming of Age in Karhide", and in a later reprinting of "Winter's King", which was first published in 1969.[126][127][122] Coming of Age in Karhide was later anthologized in the 2002 collection The Birthday of the World, which contained six other stories featuring unorthodox sexual relationships and marital arrangements.[78] She also revisited gender relations in Earthsea in Tehanu, published in 1990.[128] During this later period she commented that she considered The Eye of the Heron, published in 1978, to be her first work genuinely centered on a woman.[129]


Elizabeth McDowell states in her 1992 master's thesis that Le Guin "identif[ies] the present dominant socio-political American system as problematic and destructive to the health and life of the natural world, humanity, and their interrelations".[130](p4) This idea recurs in several of Le Guin's works, most notably The Left Hand of Darkness (1969), The Word for World Is Forest (1972), The Dispossessed (1974), The Eye of the Heron (1978), Always Coming Home (1985), and "Buffalo Gals, Won't You Come Out Tonight" (1987). All of these works center on ideas regarding socio-political organization and value-system experiments in both utopias and dystopias.[130](p40) As McDowell explains, "Although many of Le Guin's works are exercises in the fantastic imagination, they are equally exercises of the political imagination."[130](p40)

In addition to her fiction, Le Guin's book Out Here: Poems and Images from Steens Mountain Country, a collaboration with artist Roger Dorband, is a clear environmental testament to the natural beauty of that area of Eastern Oregon.[131] Le Guin also wrote several works of poetry and nonfiction on Mount St. Helens following the 1980 eruption.[132][133]

Political systemsEdit

She participated in numerous peace marches and although she did not call herself an anarchist, since she did not live the lifestyle, she did feel that "Democracy is good but it isn't the only way to achieve justice and a fair share."[134] Le Guin said: "The Dispossessed is an Anarchist utopian novel. Its ideas come from the Pacifist Anarchist tradition – Kropotkin etc. So did some of the ideas of the so-called counterculture of the sixties and seventies."[135] She also said that anarchism "is a necessary ideal at the very least. It is an ideal without which we couldn't go on. If you are asking me is anarchism at this point a practical movement, well, then you get in the question of where you try to do it and who's living on your boundary?"[136]

Le Guin has been credited with helping to popularize anarchism as her work "rescues anarchism from the cultural ghetto to which it has been consigned [and] introduces the anarchist vision ... into the mainstream of intellectual discourse". Indeed her works were influential in developing a new anarchist way of thinking; a postmodern way that is more adaptable and looks at/addresses a broader range of concerns.[137] Le Guin's feelings towards anarchism were closely tied to her Taoist beliefs and both ideas appear in her work. "Taoism and Anarchism fit together in some very interesting ways and I've been a Taoist ever since I learned what it was."[138]

Reception and critiqueEdit

In discussing The Left Hand of Darkness, literary critic Harold Bloom wrote "Le Guin, more than Tolkien, has raised fantasy into high literature, for our time".[139] Bloom followed this up by listing the book in his The Western Canon (1994) as one of the books in his conception of artistic works that have been important and influential in Western culture.[140]

Commentators have noted that the Earthsea novels in general received less critical attention because they were considered children's books. Le Guin herself took exception to this treatment of children's literature, describing it as "adult chauvinist piggery".[141] In 1976, literary scholar George Slusser criticized the "silly publication classification designating the original series as 'children's literature'".[142] Barbara Bucknall stated that "Le Guin was not writing for young children when she wrote these fantasies, nor yet for adults. She was writing for 'older kids.' But in fact she can be read, like Tolkien, by ten-year-olds and by adults. These stories are ageless because they deal with problems that confront us at any age."[142]

Soon after she won her sixth Nebula award in 2009, the Los Angeles Times wrote that after the death of Arthur C. Clarke, Le Guin was "arguably the most acclaimed science fiction writer on the planet".[4] It went on to describe her as a "pioneer" of literature for young people, and notes that Le Guin was unusual in receiving most of her recognition for her earliest works.[4] In 2016, The New York Times described her as "America's greatest living science fiction writer".[2] In that year, a collection of Le Guin's works was published by the Library of America, an honor only rarely given to living writers.[2]

Awards and recognitionEdit

In April 2000 the U.S. Library of Congress made Le Guin a Living Legend in the "Writers and Artists" category for her significant contributions to America's cultural heritage.[143] In 2002 she won a PEN/Malamud Award for "excellence in a body of short fiction".[144] In 2004 she received two American Library Association honors for her lasting contributions: for young adult literature, the annual Margaret Edwards Award; for children's literature, selection to deliver the annual May Hill Arbuthnot Lecture.[145][146] The annual Edwards Award recognizes one writer and a particular body of work; the 2004 panel cited six works published from 1968 to 1990: A Wizard of Earthsea, The Tombs of Atuan, The Farthest Shore, and Tehanu (the first four Earthsea books), The Left Hand of Darkness and The Beginning Place. The panel said that Le Guin "has inspired four generations of young adults to read beautifully constructed language, visit fantasy worlds that inform them about their own lives, and think about their ideas that are neither easy nor inconsequential".[145]

The Washington Center for the Book recognized her distinguished body of work with the Maxine Cushing Gray Fellowship for Writers on October 18, 2006.[147] At its 2009 convention, the Freedom From Religion Foundation awarded the Emperor Has No Clothes Award to Le Guin.[148] The FFRF describes the award as "celebrating 'plain speaking' on the shortcomings of religion by public figures".[149] In 2014, Le Guin was awarded the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters by the National Book Foundation, a lifetime achievement award.[150][151]

Recognizing her stature in the speculative fiction genre, Le Guin was the Professional Guest of Honor at the 1975 World Science Fiction Convention in Melbourne, Australia. That year she was also named the sixth Gandalf Award Grand Master of fantasy.[5] The Science Fiction Research Association (SFRA) gave her its Pilgrim Award in 1989 for her "lifetime contributions to SF and fantasy scholarship".[5] At the 1995 World Fantasy Convention she won the World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement, a judged recognition of outstanding service to the fantasy field.[5][152] The Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame inducted her in 2001, its sixth class of two deceased and two living writers.[153] The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America made her its 20th Grand Master in 2003.[154] In 2010, Le Guin was awarded the Lyman Tower Sargent Distinguished Scholar Award by the North American Society for Utopian Studies.[155]

Le Guin won dozens of annual "year's best" literary awards. For novels alone she won five Locus, four Nebula, two Hugo, and one World Fantasy Award. (The Dispossessed won the Locus, Nebula, and Hugo.) She also won those four awards in short fiction categories, in addition to a Nebula award she turned down in 1975.[5] Her nineteen Locus Awards, voted by magazine subscribers, are more than any other writer has received.[156] Her third Earthsea novel, The Farthest Shore, won the 1973 National Book Award for Young People's Literature,[157] and she was a finalist for ten Mythopoeic Awards, nine in Fantasy and one for Scholarship.[158] Unlocking the Air and Other Stories was one of three finalists for the 1997 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.[159] She won the 2017 Hugo Award for Best Related Work for a collection of essays entitled Words Are My Matter: Writings About Life and Books, 2000–2016.[160] Film-maker Arwen Curry began production on a documentary about Le Guin in 2009, filming "dozens" of hours of interviews with the author as well as many other writers and artists who have been inspired by her. Curry launched a successful crowdfunding campaign to finish the documentary in early 2016 after winning a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.[161][162]

Legacy and influenceEdit


She influenced Booker Prize winners and other writers, such as Salman Rushdie and David Mitchell, and science fiction and fantasy writers including Neil Gaiman and Iain Banks.[4]

Adaptations of her workEdit

Few of Le Guin's major works have been adapted for film or television. Her 1971 novel The Lathe of Heaven has been adapted twice: The first adaptation was made in 1979 by WNET Channel 13 in New York, with her own participation, and the second adaptation was made in 2002 by the A&E Network. In a 2008 interview, she said she considers the 1979 adaptation as "the only good adaptation to film" of her work to date.[15]

In the early 1980s animator and director Hayao Miyazaki asked permission to create an animated adaptation of Earthsea. However, Le Guin, who was unfamiliar with his work and anime in general, turned down the offer. Years later, after seeing My Neighbor Totoro, she reconsidered her refusal, believing that if anyone should be allowed to direct an Earthsea film, it should be Hayao Miyazaki.[163] The third and fourth Earthsea books were used as the basis of the 2006 animated film Tales from Earthsea (ゲド戦記, Gedo Senki). The film, however, was directed by Miyazaki's son, Gorō, rather than Hayao Miyazaki himself, which disappointed Le Guin. While she was positive about the aesthetic of the film, writing that "much of it was beautiful",[163] she took great issue with its re-imagining of the moral sense of the books and greater focus on physical violence. "[E]vil has been comfortably externalized in a villain", Le Guin writes, "the wizard Kumo/Cob, who can simply be killed, thus solving all problems. In modern fantasy (literary or governmental), killing people is the usual solution to the so-called war between good and evil. My books are not conceived in terms of such a war, and offer no simple answers to simplistic questions."[163]

In 1987, the CBC Radio anthology program Vanishing Point adapted The Dispossessed into a series of six 30-minute episodes,[164] and at an unspecified date The Word for World Is Forest as a series of three 30-minute episodes.[165]

In 1995, Chicago's Lifeline Theatre presented its adaptation of The Left Hand of Darkness. Reviewer Jack Helbig at the Chicago Reader wrote that the "adaptation is intelligent and well crafted but ultimately unsatisfying", in large measure because it is extremely difficult to compress a complex 300-page novel into a two-hour stage presentation.[166]

In 2004 the Sci Fi Channel adapted the first two books of the Earthsea trilogy as the miniseries Legend of Earthsea. Le Guin was highly critical of the adaptation, calling it a "far cry from the Earthsea I envisioned", objecting both to the use of white actors for her red, brown, or black-skinned characters, and to the way she was "cut out of the process".[167]

Her novella, Paradises Lost, published in The Birthday of the World: and Other Stories, was adapted into an opera by the American composer Stephen Andrew Taylor and Canadian librettist Marcia Johnson. The opera premiered April 26, 2012, at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts on the campus of the University of Illinois.[168]

In 2013, the Portland Playhouse and Hand2Mouth Theatre produced a stage adaptation of The Left Hand of Darkness, directed and adapted by Jonathan Walters, with text adapted by John Schmor. The play opened May 2, 2013, and ran until June 16, 2013, in Portland, Oregon.[169]

In 2015, the BBC commissioned radio adaptations of The Left Hand of Darkness[170] and the first three Earthsea[171] novels. The Left Hand of Darkness was aired as two hour-long episodes, and Earthsea as six half-hour episodes.

Selected worksEdit

Ursula K. Le Guin has written fiction and nonfiction works for audiences including children, adults, and scholars. Her most notable works are listed here.

Earthsea fantasy series
Hainish science fiction series

See alsoEdit


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Further readingEdit

External linksEdit