Ursula K. Le Guin 

Ursula K. Le Guin 

Past Event: Monday, April 8, 2002

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For the past forty years, Le Guin has held a steady and influential presence in the literary world. Author of forty books, Le Guin is revered by readers and critics in almost every genre, including science fiction, fantasy, poetry, children’s books, and literary criticism.

Ursula K. Le Guin was born in Berkeley, California, in 1929, the daughter of anthropologist Alfred Kroeber and Theodora Kroeber, a psychologist and writer. She studied at Radcliffe College and Columbia University, where she earned her Masters degree. In the early 1950s, Le Guin went to Paris on a Fulbright Fellowship, where she met and married historian Charles Le Guin. They eventually settled in Portland, Oregon, where they still live and remain strong supporters of the local literary community.

Her first novel, Rocannon’s World, was published in 1966. Three years and three novels later, she published one of her best-known books, The Left Hand of Darkness (1969), a ground-breaking science fiction novel that challenged gender roles and earned numerous literary awards. Newsweek called Le Guin’s writing “splendidly intricate and hugely imaginative,” declaring, “she wields her pen with a moral and psychological sophistication rarely seen.” Le Guin’s extensive body of work includes The Lathe of Heaven (1971), The Dispossessed (1974), Always Coming Home(1985), Worlds of Exile and Illusion (1996), and Sixty Odd: New Poems (1999). Le Guin’s Earthsea cycle, which consists of four linked novels, has been translated into sixteen languages and has become one of the most beloved fantasies of our time.

A definitive influence on Le Guin and her writing has been the feminist movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Before Le Guin, the feminist influence was virtually nonexistent in science fiction writing. Le Guin was at the head of a generation of writers who successfully incorporated human feeling into the previously hard-edged field of science fiction. “In her work, she reminds us again and again that stories are the primary medium for the transfer and sustaining of our personal and cultural being,” wrote The Los Angeles Times.

Next to feminism, the other major influence on Le Guin’s work is Taoism. She has translated Taoist texts and often incorporates themes of Taoist thought into her work. “If I have any particular job as a writer,” wrote Le Guin, “it’s to open as many doors and windows as possible and to leave them open.”

A winner of numerous literary accolades, Le Guin’s honors include five Hugo Awards and five Nebula Awards for science fiction. Her list of awards also includes the Kafka Award, a Pushcart Prize, a National Book Award, and the Howard Vursell Award from the Academy of Arts and Letters. She has been a finalist for several American Book Awards and was shortlisted for the Pulitzer Prize.

Excerpt from The Birthday of the World and Other Stories (2002)
I live in the oldest city in the world. Long before there were kings in Karhide, Rer was a city, the marketplace and meeting ground for all the Northeast, the Plains, and Kerm Land. The Fastness of Rer was a center of learning, a refuge, a judgment seat fifteen thousand years ago. Karhide became a nation here, under the Geger kings, who ruled for a thousand years. In the thousandth year Sedern Geger, the Unking, cast the crown into the River Arre from the palace towers, proclaiming an end to dominion. The time they call the Flowering of Rer, the Summer Century, began then. It ended when the Hearth of Harge took power and moved their capital across the mountains to Erhenrang. The Old Palace has been empty for centuries. But it stands. Nothing in Rer falls down. The Arre floods through the street-tunnels every year in the Thaw, winter blizzards may bring thirty feet of snow, but the city stands. Nobody knows how old the houses are, because they have been rebuilt forever. Each one sits in its gardens without respect to the position of any of the others, as vast and random and ancient as hills. The roofed streets and canals angle about among them. Rer is all corners. We say that the Harges left because they were afraid of what might be around the corner.

Time is different here. I learned in school how the Orgota, the Ekumen, and most other people count years. They call the year of some portentous event Year One and number forward from it. Here it’s always Year One. On Getheny Thern, New Year’s Day, the Year One becomes one-ago, one-to-come becomes One, and so on. It’s like Rer, everything always changing but the city never changing.

* * *

The year I was born (the Year One, or sixty-four-ago) was the year Argaven’s second reign began. By the time I was noticing anything beyond my own toes, the war was over, the West Fall was part of Karhide again, the capital was back in Erhenrang, and most of the damage done to Rer during the Overthrow of Emran had been repaired. The old houses had been rebuilt again. The Old Palace had been patched again. Argaven XVII was miraculously back on the throne again. Everything was the way it used to be, ought to be, back to normal, just like the old days—everybody said so.

Indeed those were quiet years, an interval of recovery before Argaven, the first Gethenian who ever left our planet, brought us at last fully into the Ekumen; before we, not they, became the Aliens; before we came of age. When I was a child we lived the way people had lived in Rer forever. It is that way, that timeless world, that world around the corner, I have been thinking about, and trying to describe for people who never knew it. Yet as I write I see how also nothing changes, that it is truly the Year One always, for each child that comes of age, each lover who falls in love.

Selected Work
The Birthday of the World and Other Stories (2002)
Sixty Odd: New Poems (1999)
Steering the Craft (1998)
A Fisherman of the Inland Sea (1994)
A Ride on the Red Mare’s Back (1992)
Tehanu (1990)
Dancing at the Edge of the World: Thoughts on Words, Women, Places (1989)
Buffalo Gals, Won’t You Come Out Tonight? (1987)
Always Coming Home (1985)
The Beginning Place (1980)
The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia (1974)
The Wind’s Twelve Quarters (1974)
The Farthest Shore (1972)
The Lathe of Heaven (1971)
The Tombs of Atuan (1971)
The Left Hand of Darkness (1969)
A Wizard of Earthsea (1968)
City of Illusions (1967)
Rocannon’s World (1967)
Planet of Exile (1966)
Worlds of Exile and Illusion (1966)

Links
Salon.com – Ursula K. Le Guin
Ursula K. Le Guin’s official web site