URSULA K. LE GUIN & HER COHORT
Ursula K. Le Guin (1929-2018), daughter of a writer and an anthropologist, was born in Berkeley, California. After an education in the East (Radcliffe ‘51, Columbia M.A. in French ‘52, post-graduate work), travel and study in France, marriage to Charles Le Guin in 1953, she and her husband moved to Portland, Oregon in 1959. There they remained and raised a family, and there Ursula would die in January 2018. Over a five-decade writing career, however, Ursula would travel the universe, travel time, and travel into worlds of her creation that would shape worlds in other writers’ and readers’ hearts and minds for generations. She wrote short stories, poetry, novels, essays, and writing guides. She translated the Tao and other works. She wrote introductions to classics being revived, to works of foreign writers who she wanted known in the English-language market. She gave commencement addresses and award acceptances that made international news. She wrote letters of commendation, endorsement, protest, activism. She thrived as an anarchist, a lover of cats, a mentor to writers.
Ursula wrote with a graceful clarity. She was observant in a glancing and peripheral way, reporting to the reader not only what happened but more importantly why it happened and what it meant and what reverberations may ensue, all of this simultaneously. Her writing is not dense, but it is so fluid, so mercury-like, so Taoist in its course over and through barriers, that second and third (and lifetime) re-readings are productive. She is simply one of the best writers of her century, and the list of other writers influenced by her is too long to elaborate, but you may begin with J.K. Rowling and Neil Gaiman and Margaret Atwood and Michael Chabon and Salman Rushdie and David Mitchell and Iain Banks.
Be prepared to be surprised. Be prepared to be re-taught how to understand the world. Le Guin was a remarkable artist, and her legacy is to entertain, to provoke, to bless, to confound, and to inspire those fortunate enough to read her.