Ursula Le Guin

Ursula K. Le Guin




Acclaimed writer Ursula K Le Guin struggled initially to be published in the mainstream fiction world, but her first three novels, Rocannon’s World, Planet of Exile and City of Illusions, put her on the sci-fi map. In 2008, 40 years later, Le Guin made literary news with Lavinia, a metatextual examination of a minor character from Virgil’s Aeneid. Le Guin was also widely known for her globally popular Earthsea fantasy series. She wrote essays on fantasy fiction and feminist issues as well, and was awarded the Living Legend Medal by the Library of Congress, among a plethora of career honors.


Background and Early Life

Ursula K. Le Guin was born Ursula Kroeber on October 21, 1929, in Berkeley, California, the youngest child and only girl among four siblings. Her mother, Theodora, was a writer who chronicled the life of the last Yahi tribe member, Ishi, while her father, Alfred, was a celebrated anthropologist. Le Guin was raised in a household in which the exploration of art, ideas and cultures was encouraged, with members of the Native-American community becoming well known to the family.


A lover of mythology, Le Guin went on to attend Radcliffe College, and later graduated with an MA from Columbia University. She wed historian and fellow Fulbright scholar Charles Le Guin in December 1953 some months after the two met on a maritime voyage to France.


‘Left Hand of Darkness’

Le Guin would later recount that she faced years of rejection from mainstream publishers while plying her trade as a writer. She eventually turned to the genres of science fiction and fantasy and found acceptance. In 1966, Le Guin published the novel Rocannon’s World, which places the planet Hain as the birthplace of humanity and thus became the first of several books that are part of the “Hainish Cycle.” Among the later titles in the cycle are The Word for World Is Forest (a 1972 outing that invited later comparison by critics to the James Cameron film Avatar), The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia (1974) and The Telling (2000). (The author stated the later novels in the cycle don’t have to be read in a particular order.)


The Left Hand of Darkness (1969), the fourth book of the Hainish Cycle after Planet of Exile (1966) and City of Illusions (1967), became one of Le Guin’s most acclaimed and trailblazing works. A ponderous narrative, Darkness profiles the Gethenians, an alien race who have no fixed gender characteristics until the time of monthly mating, with the novel also contrasting the social mores of two nations in conflict. The book was eventually lauded as a visionary classic and won both Nebula and Hugo awards.



Le Guin died at her Portland home on January 22, 2018, at age 88. No cause was immediately named, though one of her sons said she had been in poor health for months.




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