American Sci-fi and Fantasy novelist Ursula K. Le Guin, was born in Berkeley, California, on October 21, 1929. Her father Alfred Louis Kroeber was an anthropologist at the University of California, Berkeley. Le Guin’s mother Theodora Kroeber had a graduate degree in psychology, but turned to writing in her sixties. She developed a successful career as an author: her best known work was Ishi in Two Worlds, a biographical volume about Ishi, an indigenous American who was the last known member of the Yahi tribe. Ursula had three older brothers, Karl, Theodore, and Clifton. The family had a large book collection, and the siblings all became interested in reading while they were young. The Kroeber family knew well-known academics such as Robert Oppenheimer. Le Guin would later use Oppenheimer as the model for her protagonist in The Dispossessed.
The family divided its time between a summer home in the Napa valley, and a house in Berkeley during the academic year. Le Guin’s reading included science fiction and fantasy: she and her siblings frequently read issues of Thrilling Wonder Stories and Astounding Science Fiction. She was fond of myths and legends, particularly Norse mythology, and of Native American legends that her father would narrate. Le Guin developed an early interest in writing; she wrote a short story when she was nine, and submitted her first short story to Astounding Science Fiction when she was eleven and She was also interested in biology and poetry but had difficulties with mathematics. Le Guin attended Berkeley High School. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Renaissance French and Italian literature from Radcliffe College in 1951, and graduated as a member of the Phi Beta Kappa honor society. Le Guin undertook graduate studies at Columbia University, and earned a Master of Arts in French in 1952. Soon after, she began working towards a Ph.D., and won a Fulbright grant to continue her studies in France from 1953 to 1954.
In 1953, she traveled to France aboard the Queen Mary, And met historian Charles Le Guin, whom she married in Paris in December 1953. While her husband finished his doctorate at Emory University in Georgia, and later at the University of Idaho, Le Guin taught French and worked as a secretary until the birth of her daughter Elisabeth in 1957. In 1959 Charles became an instructor in history at Portland State University, and the couple moved to Portland, Oregon. Le Guin received further Fulbright grants to travel to London in 1968 and 1975. The couple had two daughters, Elisabeth and Caroline, by the time they moved, and a son, Theodore, was born in Portland in 1964.
Le Guin began writing in the 1950s, but the time she spent caring for her children constrained her writing schedule. She also became an editor and a teacher at the undergraduate level. She served on the editorial boards of the journals Paradoxa and Science Fiction Studies, in addition to writing literary criticism herself. She also taught courses at Tulane University, Bennington College, and Stanford University, among others.
Le Guin’s first published work was the poem “Folksong from the Montayna Province” in 1959, while her first short story was “An die Musik”, in 1961; both were set in her fictional country of Orsinia. Between 1951 and 1961 she also wrote five novels, all set in Orsinia, which were rejected by publishers on the grounds that they were inaccessible. Some of her poetry from this period was published in 1975 in the volume Wild Angels. Le Guin turned her attention to science fiction after lengthy periods of receiving rejections from publishers, knowing that there was a market for writing that could be readily classified as such. Her first professional publication was the short story “April in Paris” in 1962 in Fantastic Science Fiction, and four other stories followed in the next few years, in Fantastic or Amazing Stories Among them was The Dowry of the Angyar, which introduced the fictional Hainish Universe, and “The Rule of Names” and “The Word of Unbinding”, which introduced the world of Earthsea.
Rocannon’s World, Le Guin’s first published novel was released in 1966. Followed by, Planet of Exile and City of Illusions these became known as the Hainish Trilogy and contained many themes and ideas also present in Le Guin’s later works, including the “archetypal journey”, cultural contact and communication, the search for identity, and reconciling opposing forces. Le Guin’s next two books brought her sudden and widespread critical acclaim. A Wizard of Earthsea, published in 1968, was a fantasy coming of age story set in the fictional archipelago of Earthsea, the book received a positive reception in both the US and Britain
Her next novel, The Left Hand of Darkness, was a Hainish Universe story exploring themes of gender and sexuality on a fictional planet where humans have no fixed sex. it won both the Hugo and the Nebula Awards for best novel, making Le Guin the first woman to win these awards, and a number of other accolade. A Wizard of Earthsea and The Left Hand of Darkness were described by critic Harold Bloom as Le Guin’s masterpieces. She won the Hugo Award again in 1973 for The Word for World is Forest. Between 1966 and 1974, Le Guin also wrote the Hugo Award-winning “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas” and the Nebula Award-winning “The Day Before the Revolution”, the next two novels in the Earthsea series, The Tombs of Atuan and The Farthest Shore, were published in 1971 and 1972. Her next novel The Dispossessed, was published in 1974 and took place in the Hainish Universe and explored anarchism and utopianism. This won both the Hugo and the Nebula awards for best novel, making her the first person to win both for the same two books.
However Le Guin refused a Nebula Award for her story “The Diary of the Rose” in 1975, in protest at the Science Fiction Writers of America’s revocation of Stanisław Lem’s membership. Le Guin attributed the revocation to Lem’s criticism of American science fiction and willingness to live in the Soviet Union, and said she felt reluctant to receive an award “for a story about political intolerance from a group that had just displayed political intolerance”.
Next Le Guin published the speculative fiction collection The Wind’s Twelve Quarters, the novels The Eye of the Heron, Orsinian Tales, Malafrena and Far Away from Anywhere Else, a realistic novel for adolescents, in 1979 she released a collection of essays entitled The Language of the Night and a volume of poetry entitled Wild Angels. Between 1979, and 1994, Le Guin wrote primarily for a younger audience releasing an adolescent fantasy novel called The Beginning Place, the experimental Always Coming Home together with 11 children’s picture books, between 1979 and 1994. Le Guin also wrote four more poetry collection and another Earthsea novel Tehanu in 1992. In 1983 she delivered a commencement address entitled “A Left-Handed Commencement Address” at Mills College in Oakland, California.
In 1990 Le Guin published – “The Shobies’ Story” containing the story “Coming of Age in Karhide”. She also published Four Ways to Forgiveness, and “Old Music and the Slave Women”, and In 2000 she published The Telling, her final Hainish novel. Several collections and anthologies of Le Guin’s work were also published. A series of her stories from the period 1994–2002 was released in 2002 Including The Birthday of the World and Other Stories, the novella Paradises Lost, the novel Changing Planes and the anthology The Unreal and the Real. In 2008 she published Lavinia, this was based on a character from Virgil’s Aeneid and the Annals of the Western Shore trilogy, consisting of Gifts, Voices and Powers which received the Nebula Award for Best Novel in 2009.
Le Guin’s final publication, was a collection of non-fiction, titled Dreams Must Explain Themselves. Le Guin also 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. In a speech at the 2014 National Book Awards, Le Guin criticized Amazon and the control it exerted over the publishing industry, specifically referencing Amazon’s treatment of the Hachette Book Group during a dispute over ebook publication. Sadly. Le Guin died on January 22, 2018, at her home in Portland, Oregon at the age of 88 having been in poor health She was survived by her husband Charles and her three children. Private memorial services for her were held in Portland and A public memorial service, which included speeches by Margaret Atwood, Molly Gloss, and Walidah Imarisha, was held in Portland in June 2018.