Ursula K. Le Guin

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Ursula Kroeber Le Guin (1929-2018) was an American novelist and poet, best known for her work in science fiction and fantasy.


Le Guin was born on October 21, 1929 in Berkeley, California. Her father was the anthropologist Alfred Kroeber, whose work with Native Americans would later influence several of her novels. Her mother, Theodora Kroeber, was a writer.

Le Guin grew up in Berkeley and attended Radcliffe University, where she earned a B.A. in 1951. She then moved on to Columbia University, where she received an M.A., and began work on her doctorate. While in France on a Fulbright Scholarship to study a French poet, she met and fell in love with historian Charles Le Guin. They were married in Paris on December 25, 1953.

She gave up her own studies and worked to support the household while Charles finished his doctorate and found a teaching job, and then became a full-time writer. The couple moved to Oregon in 1958, where they raised two daughters and a son.

Le Guin's early writing was mostly poetry. Her first short story to be published appeared in 1961. Her first two novels were published in 1966, but by then she had already set the stage for several of her novels with short stories exploring their settings.

Since then, Le Guin accumulated all the major awards in science fiction and fantasy, as well a Newbery Medal, a National Book Award, and other honors not usually open to someone stereotyped as a "genre author".

She died 22 January 2018

Major works

  • The Earthsea novels, beginning with A Wizard of Earthsea (1968), were ostensibly written for children, but found enormous success among adults as well. They offered an alternative sort of fantasy to imitations of The Lord of the Rings, with no Dark Lord to be defeated. Instead, the novels follow a theme of maintaining balance and repairing the world.
  • The Left Hand of Darkness (1969) is one of several novels of the Ekumen, an interstellar culture spanning many variants of humanity. This novel explores gender roles and relations through the workings of a world in which people have no fixed gender.
  • The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia (1974), another Ekumen novel, contrasts the two cultures of a double planet: Urras is rich, capitalist, but struggling with the problems of inequality; while Anarres, the utopia of the title, has an open, communal, sharing culture, but life there is difficult and its people are still subject to the human problems of jealousy, greed, and so forth.
  • The Lathe of Heaven (1971) also explores utopia. The protagonist, able to change the world with his dreams, becomes the tool of a man who wants to use him to fix the world, but every supposedly uplifting change winds up backfiring.
  • Always Coming Home, in one way also utopian, is a collection of tales and documents about a future society in northern California.

Among her non-sf novels is

  • Lavinia, a reinterpretation and extrapolation of the second part of Virgil's Aeneid.