Ursula K. Le Guin

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

Ursula Kroeber Le Guin (n/;[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]

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 education

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 life

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 advocacy

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]

Other Languages
azərbaycanca: Ursula Kröber Le Quin
Bikol Central: Ursula Kroeber Le Guin
български: Урсула Ле Гуин
Bahasa Indonesia: Ursula Kroeber Le Guin
interlingua: Ursula K. Le Guin
italiano: Ursula Le Guin
Kapampangan: Ursula K. Le Guin
latviešu: Ursula Le Gvina
македонски: Урсула Ле Гвин
Nederlands: Ursula Le Guin
norsk nynorsk: Ursula K. Le Guin
português: Ursula K. Le Guin
Simple English: Ursula K. Le Guin
slovenščina: Ursula Kroeber Le Guin
српски / srpski: Урсула Ле Гвин
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Ursula K. Le Guin
українська: Урсула Ле Ґуїн
Tiếng Việt: Ursula K. Le Guin