Beloved, Visionary Fantasy Writer Ursula K. Le Guin Dies at 88

Photo: Getty
Photo: Getty

On Tuesday, the New York Times reported that Ursula K. Le Guin—author of dozens of books including The Left Hand of Darkness and the Earthsea series, and a literary hero in her own right—died at her home in Portland, Oregon at the age of 88. Her son, Theo Downes-Le Guin confirmed her passing, noting that her health had been poor for several months, though he didn’t identify the cause of death.

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Le Guin wrote prolifically and widely: more than 20 novels, a dozen poetry books, seven essay collections, 13 children’s books, five books in translation, and at least 100 short stories. Her books have been translated into more than 40 languages.

Considered a groundbreaking feminist science fiction writer, Le Guin is best known for her novel The Left Hand of Darkness, for which she designed a planet of individuals without stringent, binary gender distinctions. She told the Guardian of that novel’s conceit, “I eliminated gender to find out what was left.” Elsewhere, Le Guin displayed an engrossing talent for discussing the hard work and joyful struggle of imagining candidly. “Imagination,” she once wrote, “working at full strength, can shake us out of our fatal, adoring self-absorption, and make us look up and see—with terror or with relief—that the world does not in fact belong to us at all.”

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Just as Le Guin was committed to the triumph of imaginative writing, so too was she strongly opposed to the forces she perceived to be leeching it away. In 2014, Le Guin delivered a six-minute speech at the National Book Awards ceremony, where she was receiving a medal for Distinguished Contribution. “Books aren’t just commodities,” she said in that speech. “The profit motive is often in conflict with the aims of art. We live in capitalism, its power seems inescapable—but then, so did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art.”

Authors and publishers have been paying their respects this evening:

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I mean, holy hell, gaze upon how cool she was.

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A marvelous human, RIP.

contributing writer, nights

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DISCUSSION

wearebarnacles
wearebarnacles

Oh, man. The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia totally shaped my ethics when a friend recommended me them as a teenager. I am a totally different person because of them. I was blown away that she was the same author of The Wizard of Earthsea, a book I had loved as a child. Her range and vision were extraordinary. I am so glad she had a long life and a prolific career.

Additionally, I heard an interview with her on NPR where she discussed the winding down of aging and how she did not have the energy to write another novel. I was so glad she was discussing this time of life openly, and it gave me an icebreaker to talk with my octogenarian grandparents about their experience of aging. None of us would ever have discussed it if I hadn’t heard her interview.

She was a treasure and we are lucky to have had her so long.