Ursula K. Le Guin, 1929-2018

January 24, 2018

Ursula K. Le Guin at #AWP14

Ursula K. Le Guin, author of over 20 novels, 100 short stories, and dozens more books of poetry, essays, and works for children, passed away on Monday, January 22. She was eighty-eight. The cause was not reported, but her son Theo Downes-Le Guin said she had been ill for several months.

Ursula K. Le Guin’s Left Hand of Darkness from 1969 won both the Hugo and the Nebula awards. The novel featured a genderless society on another planet, which she “referred to … as a ‘thought experiment’ designed to explore the nature of human societies.”

Le Guin was lauded many times throughout her long career. She received the 2002 PEN/Malamud Award for excellence in short fiction, and in 2000 the Library of Congress named her a “Living Legend” for her contribution to culture. She was a Pulitzer Prize finalist for her 1996 collection Unlocking the Air and Other Stories. She received the 1973 National Book Award for Children’s Literature for The Farthest Shore, the third novel of her beloved Earthsea trilogy.

In 2014, she received the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters from the National Book Foundation. The Foundation website has an archive of her acceptance speech from the event. In her speech, she said, “I rejoice in accepting it for, and sharing it with, all the writers who’ve been excluded from literature for so long—my fellow authors of fantasy and science fiction, writers of the imagination, who for 50 years have watched the beautiful rewards go to the so-called realists.” Harold Augenbraum, the Foundation’s Executive Director at the time, said, “She has shown how great writing will obliterate the antiquated—and never really valid—line between popular and literary art. Her influence will be felt for decades to come.”

Neil Gaiman, who presented that 2014 National Book Foundation Medal to her, tweeted, “Her words are always with us. Some of them are written on my soul. I miss her as a glorious funny prickly person, & I miss her as the deepest and smartest of the writers, too.”

Le Guin was a featured presenter at the AWP Conference & Bookfair in 2014, and she was interviewed twice in The Writer’s Chronicle over the years, most recently in the March/April 2017 issue. This interview and one from 2003 are available to read online.


Image: Ursula K. Le Guin at 2014 Conference. Credit: AWP

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