R.I.P. Ursula Le Guin

Ursula Le Guin in 2008
Ursula Le Guin in 2008

The writer Ursula Le Guin (photo ©Gorthian) passed away on Monday. The causes of her death were not revealed but her health deteriorated over the past year.

Ursula Kroeber, this is her birth name, was born on October 21, 1929 in Berkeley, California, USA.

Ursula Le Guin’s mother, Theodora, was a writer and encouraged her daughter and her three sons to read from their earliest childhood. Ursula was still a child when she started writing her first stories. She studied at Columbia University, where she earned her B.A. in Renaissance French and Italian literature from Radcliffe College in 1951, and her M.A. in French and Italian literature from Columbia University. After her graduation she moved to Paris, where she met Charles Le Guin and the two of them got married in 1953.

For some time, Ursula Le Guin devoted herself to her family, also due to the birth of her daughter Elisabeth in 1957, her daughter Caroline in 1959 and her son Theodore 1964. However, during those years she also started writing professionally and submitted 5 novels to various publishers who, however, rejected them.

In the early 1960s, Ursula Le Guin managed to get her first stories published and decided to try again writing science fiction, a genre she stopped reading when she lost interest in the themes of the stories she found. Among the stories published there were also the first of the fantasy Earthsea series, which continued in 1968 with the first novel, “A Wizard of Earthsea”, followed over the years by other novels and short fiction.

In those years Ursula Le Guin laid the groundwork for her other great fictional universe, that of the Hainish Cycle, formed by stories generally separate in space and time and therefore independent. Again many works were published over a long period starting with the 1966 novel “Rocannon’s World”.

The novels that perhaps are the greatest masterpieces of Ursula Le Guin belong to the Hainish Cycle: “The Left Hand of Darkness” (1969), winner of the Hugo and Nebula awards, and “The Disposessed: an Ambiguous Utopia” (1974), also winner of the Hugo and Nebula awards. Another remarkable novel of the cycle is “The World of the Forest” (1976), an extension of a novella that won the Hugo award.

Ursula Le Guin also wrote other great novels such as “The Lathe of Heaven” (1971), winner of the Locus award, which was adapted for two TV movies in 1980 and 2002.

Ursula Le Guin’s great fame is linked to science fiction and fantasy but in the course of her life she also wrote works of other genres, essays and poetry. Among the children’s books there’s for example the Catwings series.

Among the many awards, in 2014 Ursula Le Guin received the one from the National Book Foundation and her acceptance speech, very critical of the publishers’ World and in particular of Amazon for their treatment of literature acting as commodity profiteers, was memorable.

Ursula Le Guin has been an extraordinary writer for her ability to create realistic worlds even in her fantasy stories with characters of great depth. The influence of her father, an anthropologist, led her to develop stories in which her worlds’ cultures with their social and political complexities were very important. Her points of view with a genuine feminism and sometimes anarchist, went far beyond so many science fiction and fantasy clichés. She was really an important writer far beyond any genre label.

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