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|Ursula K. Le Guin|
Le Guin at a bookstore Q&A session, July 2004
October 21, 1929
Berkeley, California, USA
|Genre||Science fiction, fantasy|
|Spouse||Charles Le Guin (m. 1953–present); 3 children|
|Ursula K. Le Guin|
Le Guin at a bookstore Q&A session, July 2004
October 21, 1929
Berkeley, California, USA
|Genre||Science fiction, fantasy|
|Spouse||Charles Le Guin (m. 1953–present); 3 children|
Ursula Kroeber Le Guin (US / /; born October 21, 1929) is an American author of novels, children's books, and short stories, mainly in the genres of fantasy and science fiction. She has also written poetry and essays. First published in the 1960s, her work has often depicted futuristic or imaginary alternative worlds in politics, natural environment, gender, religion, sexuality and ethnography.
Le Guin was influenced by fantasy writers including J. R. R. Tolkien, by science fiction writers including Philip K. Dick (who was in her same high school class, though they didn't know one another), by central figures of Western literature such as Leo Tolstoy, Virgil and the Brontë sisters, by feminist writers such as Virginia Woolf, by children's literature such as Alice in Wonderland, The Wind in the Willows, The Jungle Book, by Norse mythology, and by books from the Eastern tradition such as the Tao Te Ching. In turn, she influenced such Booker Prize winners and other writers, as Salman Rushdie and David Mitchell – and notable futurism and fantasy writers including Neil Gaiman and Iain Banks. She has won the Hugo Award, Nebula Award, Locus Award, and World Fantasy Award, each more than once.
Ursula Kroeber was the daughter of anthropologist Alfred L. Kroeber and writer Theodora Kroeber. In 1901 Alfred Kroeber earned the first Ph.D. in anthropology in the United States from Columbia University. He established the second anthropology department in the US, at the University of California, Berkeley. Theodora Kroeber wrote a biography of her husband, Alfred Kroeber: A Personal Configuration, as well as an account of Ishi, a friend of the Kroeber family, and a Native American who had lived most of his life out of contact with modern culture.
Ursula and her three older brothers, Karl, Theodore, and Clifford, were encouraged to read and were exposed to their parents' dynamic friend group. In retrospect, she is grateful for the ease and happiness of her upbringing. The encouraging environment fostered Le Guin's interest in literature; her first fantasy story was written at age 9, her first science fiction story submitted for publication in the magazine Astounding Science Fiction at age 11. The family spent the academic year in Berkeley, retreating to a Napa valley estate in the summers. She was interested in biology and poetry, but found math difficult. Le Guin attended Berkeley High School. She received her B.A. (Phi Beta Kappa) in Renaissance French and Italian literature from Radcliffe College in 1951, and M.A. in French and Italian literature from Columbia University in 1952. Soon after, Le Guin began her Ph.D. work and won a Fulbright grant to continue her studies in France from 1953-54.
In 1953, while traveling to France, Le Guin met her future husband, historian Charles Le Guin (French pronunciation: [lǝ gɛ̃] or [lǝ ɡʷin]). They married later that year in Paris. After marrying, Le Guin chose not to continue her doctoral studies of the poet Jean Lemaire de Belges.
The couple returned to the US so that he could pursue his Ph.D., first at Emory University from 1954–55, then at University of Idaho in 1956. During this time, she worked as a secretary and taught French at the university level. Their first two children were born in Idaho, Elizabeth (1957) and Caroline (1959). Later in 1959, the Le Guins moved to Portland, Oregon, where they still reside. Charles attained a teaching position at Portland State University. During this time, she continued to make time for writing in addition to maintaining her family life. In 1964, her third child, Theodore, was born.
Le Guin became interested in literature quite early. At age 11 she submitted her first story to the magazine Astounding Science Fiction. It was rejected. She continued writing but did not attempt to publish for ten years.
Her earliest writings, some of which she adapted in Orsinian Tales and Malafrena, were non-fantastic stories of imaginary countries. Searching for a way to express her interests, she returned to her early interest in science fiction; in the early 1960s her work began to be published regularly. One Orsinian Tale was published in the Summer 1961 issue of The Western Humanities Review and three of her stories appeared in 1962 and 1963 numbers of Fantastic Stories of Imagination, a monthly edited by Cele Goldsmith. Goldsmith also edited Amazing Stories, which ran two of Le Guin's stories in 1964, including the first "Hainish" story.
Le Guin received wide recognition for her novel The Left Hand of Darkness, which won the Hugo and Nebula awards in 1970. Her subsequent novel The Dispossessed made her the first person to win both the Hugo and Nebula Awards for Best Novel twice for the same two books.
In later years, Le Guin worked in film and audio. She contributed to The Lathe of Heaven, a 1979 PBS film based on her novel of the same name. In 1985 she collaborated with avant-garde composer David Bedford on the libretto of Rigel 9, a space opera. In May 1983 she delivered a well-received commencement address entitled "A Left Handed Commencement Address" at Mills College, Oakland, California. "A Left Handed Commencement Address" is included in her nonfiction collection Dancing at the Edge of the World.
In 1984, Le Guin was part of a group along with Ken Kesey, Brian Booth, and William Stanford that founded the Oregon Institute of Literary Arts, which is now known at Literary Arts in Portland.
In December 2009 Le Guin resigned from the Authors Guild in protest over its endorsement of Google's book digitization project. "You decided to deal with the devil", she wrote in her resignation letter. "There are principles involved, above all the whole concept of copyright; and these you have seen fit to abandon to a corporation, on their terms, without a struggle."
Le Guin has won dozens of annual "year's best" literary awards. For novels alone she has won five Locus, four Nebula, two Hugo, and one World Fantasy Award. (The Dispossessed won the Locus, Nebula, and Hugo.) She has also won those four awards in short fiction categories, although she turned down a Nebula award for her novelette The Diary of the Rose in protest at the Science Fiction Writers of America's treatment of Stanislaw Lem. Her nineteen Locus Awards, voted by magazine subscribers, are more than any other writer has received. Her third Earthsea novel, The Farthest Shore won the 1973 National Book Award for Young People's Literature and she has been a finalist for ten Mythopoeic Awards, nine in Fantasy and one for Scholarship. Unlocking the Air and Other Stories was one of three finalists for the 1997 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.
Recognizing her stature in the speculative fiction genre, Le Guin was the Professional Guest of Honor at the 1975 World Science Fiction Convention in Melbourne, Australia. That year she was also named the sixth Gandalf Award Grand Master of fantasy. The Science Fiction Research Association (SFRA) gave her its Pilgrim Award in 1989 for her "lifetime contributions to SF and fantasy scholarship". At the 1995 World Fantasy Convention she won the World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement, a judged recognition of outstanding service to the fantasy field. The Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame inducted her in 2001, its sixth class of two deceased and two living writers. The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America made her its 20th Grand Master in 2003.
In April 2000 the U.S. Library of Congress made Le Guin a Living Legend in the "Writers and Artists" category for her significant contributions to America's cultural heritage. In 2002 she won a PEN/Malamud Award for "excellence in a body of short fiction". In 2004 she received two American Library Association honors for her lasting contributions: for young adult literature, the annual Margaret A. Edwards Award; for children's literature, selection to deliver the annual May Hill Arbuthnot Lecture. The annual Edwards Award recognizes one writer and a particular body of work; the 2004 panel cited six works published from 1968 to 1990: A Wizard of Earthsea, The Tombs of Atuan, The Farthest Shore, and Tehanu (the first four Earthsea books), The Left Hand of Darkness and The Beginning Place. The panel said that Le Guin "has inspired four generations of young adults to read beautifully constructed language, visit fantasy worlds that inform them about their own lives, and think about their ideas that are neither easy nor inconsequential."
At its 2009 convention, the Freedom From Religion Foundation awarded the Emperor Has No Clothes Award to Le Guin. The FFRF describes the award as "celebrating 'plain speaking' on the shortcomings of religion by public figures".[a]
In 2014, Le Guin was awarded the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters by the National Book Foundation, a lifetime achievement award.
When asked about her influences, she replied; "Once I learned to read, I read everything. I read all the famous fantasies – Alice in Wonderland, and Wind in the Willows, and Kipling. I adored Kipling's Jungle Book. And then when I got older I found Lord Dunsany. He opened up a whole new world – the world of pure fantasy. And ... Worm Ouroboros. Again, pure fantasy. Very, very fattening. And then my brother and I blundered into science fiction when I was 11 or 12. Early Asimov, things like that. But that didn't have too much effect on me. It wasn't until I came back to science fiction and discovered Sturgeon – but particularly Cordwainer Smith. ... I read the story "Alpha Ralpha Boulevard", and it just made me go, "Wow! This stuff is so beautiful, and so strange, and I want to do something like that." In the mid 50s, she read J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, which had an enormous impact on her. But rather than follow in Tolkien's footsteps, it simply showed her what was possible to do with the fantasy genre.
Le Guin exploits the creative flexibility of the science fiction and fantasy genres to undertake thorough explorations both of dimensions of social and psychological identity and of broader cultural and social structures. In doing so, she draws on sociology, anthropology, and psychology, leading some critics to categorize her work as soft science fiction. She has objected to this classification of her writing, arguing the term is divisive and implies a narrow view of what constitutes valid science fiction. There are also the underlying ideas of anarchism and environmentalism that make repeated appearances throughout Le Guin’s work.
In 2014 Le Guin was asked whether science fiction writers should strive to accurately predict the future world. She replied: " ... the task of science fiction is not to predict the future. Rather, it contemplates possible futures. Writers may find the future appealing precisely because it can't be known, a black box where “anything at all can be said to happen without fear of contradiction from a native. The future is a safe, sterile laboratory for trying out ideas in, a means of thinking about reality, a method.”
The Left Hand of Darkness, along with The Dispossessed and The Telling, are novels within Le Guin's Hainish Cycle, which employs a future galactic civilization loosely connected by an organizational body known as the Ekumen to consider the consequences of contact between different worlds and cultures. Unlike those in much mainstream science fiction, Hainish Cycle civilization does not possess reliable human faster-than-light travel, but does have technology for instantaneous communication. This allows the author to hypothesize a loose collection of societies that exist largely in isolation from one another, providing the setting for her explorations of intercultural encounter. The social and cultural impact of the arrival of Ekumen envoys (known as "mobiles") on remote planets, and the culture shock that the envoys experience, constitute major themes of The Left Hand of Darkness. Le Guin's concept has been borrowed explicitly by several other well-known authors, to the extent of using the name of the communication device (the "ansible"). Being so thoroughly informed by social science perspectives on identity and society, Le Guin treats race and gender quite deliberately. The majority of her main characters are people of color, a choice made to reflect the non-white majority of humans, and one to which she attributes the frequent lack of character illustrations on her book covers. Her writing often makes use of alien cultures to examine structural characteristics of human culture and society and their impact on the individual. In The Left Hand of Darkness, for example, she implicitly explores social, cultural, and personal consequences of sexual identity through a novel involving a human encounter with an unpredictably androgynous race.
This prominent theme of cultural interaction is most likely rooted in the fact that Le Guin grew up in an anthropologist’s household where the remarkable anthropological case of the Native American Ishi and his interaction with the white man’s world surrounded her (Le Guin’s mother wrote the bestseller Ishi in Two Worlds). Similar elements are echoed through many of Le Guin’s stories — from Planet of Exile and City of Illusion to The Word for World Is Forest and The Dispossessed.
Le Guin's writing notably employs the ordinary actions and transactions of everyday life, clarifying how these daily activities embed individuals in a context of relation to the physical world and to one another. For example, the engagement of the main characters with the everyday business of looking after animals, tending gardens and doing domestic chores is central to the novel Tehanu. Themes of Jungian psychology also are prominent in her writing.
Le Guin, as Elizabeth McDowell states in her 1992 master’s thesis, “identif[ies] the present dominant socio-political American system as problematic and destructive to the health and life of the natural world, humanity, and their interrelations.” This idea recurs in several of Le Guin’s works, most notably The Left Hand of Darkness (1969), The Word for World Is Forest (1972), The Dispossessed (1974), The Eye of the Heron (1978), Always Coming Home (1985), and “Buffalo Gals, Won’t you Come Out Tonight?” (1987). All of these works center around ideas regarding socio-political organization and value-system experiments in both utopias and dystopias. As McDowell explains, “Although many of Le Guin’s works are exercises in the fantastic imagination, they are equally exercises of the political imagination.”
In addition to her fiction, Le Guin's book Out Here: Poems and Images from Steens Mountain Country, a collaboration with artist Roger Dorband, is a clear environmental testament to the natural beauty of that area of Eastern Oregon.
Le Guin’s feelings towards anarchism are closely tied to her Taoist beliefs and both ideas appear in her work. "Taoism and Anarchism fit together in some very interesting ways and I've been a Taoist ever since I learned what it was." She has participated in numerous peace marches and although she does not call herself an anarchist since she does not live the lifestyle, she does feel that, "Democracy is good but it isn't the only way to achieve justice and a fair share." In an interview with The Guardian, Le Guin said: "The Dispossessed is an Anarchist utopian novel. Its ideas come from the Pacifist Anarchist tradition - Kropotkin etc. So did some of the ideas of the so-called counterculture of the sixties and seventies.” Le Guin has said that anarchism “is a necessary ideal at the very least. It is an ideal without which we couldn't go on. If you are asking me is anarchism at this point a practical movement, well, then you get in the question of where you try to do it and who’s living on your boundary?” (Archived interview, need to find published interview)
Le Guin has been credited with helping to popularize anarchism as her work “rescues anarchism from the cultural ghetto to which it has been consigned [and] introduces the anarchist vision…into the mainstream of intellectual discourse.” Indeed her works were influential in developing a new anarchist way of thinking; a postmodern way that is more adaptable and looks at/addresses a broader range of concerns.
Few of Le Guin's major works have been adapted for film or television. Her 1971 novel The Lathe of Heaven has been adapted twice: the first adaptation was made in 1979 by WNET Channel 13 in New York, with her own participation, and the second adaptation was made in 2002 by the A&E Network. In a 2008 interview, she said she considers the 1979 adaptation as "the only good adaptation to film" of her work to date.
In the early 1980s animator and director Hayao Miyazaki asked permission to create an animated adaptation of Earthsea. However, Le Guin, who was unfamiliar with his work and anime in general, turned down the offer. Years later, after seeing My Neighbour Totoro, she reconsidered her refusal, believing that if anyone should be allowed to direct an Earthsea film, it should be Hayao Miyazaki. The third and fourth Earthsea books were used as the basis of the 2006 animated film Tales from Earthsea (ゲド戦記 Gedo Senki?). The film, however, was directed by Miyazaki's son, Gorō, rather than Hayao Miyazaki himself, which disappointed Le Guin. While she was positive about the aesthetic of the film, writing that "much of it was beautiful", she took great issue with its re-imagining of the moral sense of the books and greater focus on physical violence. "[E]vil has been comfortably externalized in a villain", Le Guin writes, "the wizard Kumo/Cob, who can simply be killed, thus solving all problems. In modern fantasy (literary or governmental), killing people is the usual solution to the so-called war between good and evil. My books are not conceived in terms of such a war, and offer no simple answers to simplistic questions."
In 1987, the CBC Radio anthology program Vanishing Point adapted The Dispossessed into a series of six 30 minute episodes, and at an unspecified date The Word for World Is Forest as a series of three 30 minute episodes.
In 1995, Chicago's Lifeline Theatre presented its adaptation of The Left Hand of Darkness. Reviewer Jack Helbig at the Chicago Reader wrote that the "adaptation is intelligent and well crafted but ultimately unsatisfying," in large measure because it is extremely difficult to compress a complex 300-page novel into a two-hour stage presentation.
In 2004 the Sci Fi Channel adapted the first two books of the Earthsea trilogy as the miniseries Legend of Earthsea. Le Guin was highly critical of the adaptation, calling it a "far cry from the Earthsea I envisioned", objecting both to the use of white actors for her red, brown, or black-skinned characters, and to the way she was "cut out of the process".
Her novella, Paradises Lost, published in The Birthday of the World: and Other Stories, was adapted into an opera by the American composer Stephen Andrew Taylor and Canadian librettist Marcia Johnson. The opera premiered April 26, 2012 at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts on the campus of the University of Illinois.
In 2013, the Portland Playhouse and Hand2Mouth Theatre produced a stage adaptation of The Left Hand of Darkness, directed and adapted by Jonathan Walters, with text adapted by John Schmor. The play opened May 2, 2013 and ran until June 16, 2013 in Portland, Oregon.
Ursula K. Le Guin has written fiction and nonfiction works for audiences including children, adults, and scholars. Her most notable works are listed here.
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