Ursula K. Le Guin

By Viraj S.

A few weeks ago, one of Portland’s greatest novelists passed away. Ursula K Le Guin passed away at the age of 88 after being in poor health for several months. She is remembered for her ability to blend feminist senses with science fiction to create truly unique novels.

Ursula K. Le Guin was born on October 21, 1929 in Berkeley, California. Throughout her childhood, Le Guin was infatuated with literature. She wrote her first science fiction story at age 11 and submitted it to magazine Astounding Science Fiction. While in her early years many of her stories were rejected, she was not dissuaded and continued to work on her novels and short essays.

Le Guin gained mainstream recognition with her novel, The Left Hand of Darkness, which follows a character who is sent to an extraterrestrial planet as an envoy to persuade the people of that planet to ally with his people. The novel touches on themes of sex and gender, and their impacts on culture and society. The Left Hand of Darkness received significant praise from book critics, and helped propel Le Guin into stardom as a famous science fiction author. Le Guin earned further acclaim from her subsequent books, including The Dispossessed, which won numerous awards such as the Hugo and Locus Awards. Her style of writing generally focused on describing imaginary worlds’ politics, gender, religion and sexuality.

Erika Jelinek, OES’ upper school librarian, described Le Guin as, “one of the earliest voices advocating for the inclusion of women in the largely male (and largely sexist) world of science fiction and fantasy.” Erika also noted that, “she has an awesome collection of essays called The Language of the Night in which she discusses why science fiction and fantasy are the ideal genres to do such a thing; writers are able to plum the depths of what makes us human, and make what is invisible, visible, and able to be understood, something that can’t necessarily be done with realistic fiction.”

Additionally, Erika explained that, “[Le Guin] was so prolific and wrote so many different things, but… her writing was usually socially aware fantasy and science fiction. She was the daughter of noted Berkeley anthropologists and was unabashedly radical in her politics and world view, which came through in just about everything she wrote, both fiction and nonfiction. So, she was versatile, but always imaginative and piercingly, furiously intelligent.”

Ursula K. Le Guin leaves a legacy of being a breakthrough writer in connecting science fiction with politically and culturally relevant topics, defying boundaries and delving into  uncharted territories of prose.


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