OBITUARY: Ursula le Guin, award-winning sci-fi writer who defied pigeon-holing

Ursula K Le Guin RIP John Doran , January 23rd, 2018 23:32

Born Oct. 21, 1929 in Berkeley, Calif., Le Guin was most famous for her "Earthsea" series of novels, which were adapted into a television miniseries as well as an animated film from Goro Miyazaki, son of the legendary Hayao Miyazaki.

Many writers mourned her death. Le Guin was best known for the "Earthsea" fantasy books and for her influential gender-bending space saga "The Left Hand Of Darkness".

MAYER: And really that was Ursula K. Le Guin for me. Mixing science fiction and fantasy, and told from the point of view of an interplanetary envoy stranded in a planet with a medieval culture, the novel hinted at something different. "Godspeed into the galaxy".

Among the many awards Le Guin accrued over the course of her career were the Newbery Medal, multiple Nebula and Hugo awards, the PEN/Malamud Award for excellence in short fiction and the National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters.

"I eliminated gender to find out what was left", she said of the book.

She influenced generations of authors from Margaret Atwood to Neil Gaiman - and wrote about a boy wizard 30 years before Harry Potter. Her mother, Theodora Quinn Kroeber, wrote the biography "Ishi in Two Worlds". She wrote about gender and race with an anthropologist's eye, challenging preconceptions about both.

Le Guin strongly urged publishers and writers not to put too much emphasis on profits and focus only on the writing.

I removed the word because it made her uncomfortable.

Le Guin graduated from Radcliffe College in 1951, earned a master's degree in romance literature of the Middle Ages and Renaissance from Columbia University in 1952, and won a Fulbright fellowship to study in Paris. But she disliked Ernest Hemingway, and Philip Roth's literary enshrinement infuriated her (though Roth actually did write "The Great American Novel.") Her tastes are basic and visceral, she conceded. Just as an example, when she began to publish the "Earthsea" books in the late-'60s, there were a lot of characters that weren't white, and that was a pretty big deal if the only other thing you were seeing was Lieutenant Uhura on "Star Trek".

To Le Guin, this genre envisioning was a moral necessity.

Left Hand of darkness: multi award-winner. (The "Ursula" is missing because Playboy thought its male readers wouldn't cope with a woman writer.) I was, badly, trying to say something about personas and fame, and the naming magic on which Le Guin drew in her Earthsea novels. She published more than 20 novels, a dozen poetry collections, seven essay collections and 13 children's books. Highlights of her career include "The Word for World Is Forest", "Always Coming Home" and "The Lathe of Heaven". In her acceptance speech, she spoke prophetically of the hard years ahead for the country - and in praise of the quality that runs so freely through her books: imagination.

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