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Ursula K(roeber) Le Guin Biography

Nationality: American. Born: Berkeley, California, 1929; daughter of the anthropologist Alfred L. Kroeber. Education: Radcliffe College, Cambridge, Massachusetts, AB in French 1951 (Phi Beta Kappa); Columbia University, New York (Faculty fellow; Fulbright fellow, 1953), MA in romance languages 1952. Career: Instructor in French, Mercer University, Macon, Georgia, 1954, and University of Idaho, Moscow, 1956; department secretary, Emory University, Atlanta, 1955; taught writing workshops at Pacific University, Forest Grove, Oregon, 1971, University of Washington, Seattle, 1971-73, Portland State University, Oregon, 1974, 1977, 1979, 1995, in Melbourne, Australia, 1975, at the University of Reading, England, 1976, Indiana Writers Conference, Bloomington, 1978 and 1983, and University of California, San Diego, 1979. Awards: Boston Globe-Horn Book award, 1968; Nebula award, 1969, 1975, 1990, 1996; Hugo award, 1970, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1988; National Book award, 1972; Newbery Silver Medal award, 1972; Locus award, 1973, 1984, 1995, 1996; Jupiter award, 1975 (twice), 1976; Gandalf award, 1979; Lewis Carroll Shelf award, 1979; University of Oregon Distinguished Service award, 1981; Janet Kafka award, 1986; Prix Lectures-Jeunesse (France), 1987; Pushcart prize, 1991; Harold Vursell award, 1991; Oregon Institute of Literary Arts HL Davis award, 1992; Hubbub Annual Poetry award, 1995; Asimov's Reader's award, 1995; James Tiptree, Jr. Award, 1995; Theodore Sturgeon Award, 1995; Retrospective Award, 1996, 1997. Guest of Honor, World Science Fiction Convention, 1975. DLitt: Bucknell University, Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, 1978; Lawrence University, Appleton, Wisconsin, 1979; DHL: Lewis and Clark College, Portland, 1983; Occidental College, Los Angeles, 1985. Lives in Portland, Oregon. Agent: Virginia Kidd, 538 East Harford Street, Milford, Pennsylvania 18337, USA



Rocannon's World. New York, Ace, 1966; London, Tandem, 1972.

Planet of Exile. New York, Ace, 1966; London, Tandem, 1972.

City of Illusions. New York, Ace, 1967; London, Gollancz, 1971.

A Wizard of Earthsea. Berkeley, California, Parnassus Press, 1968; London, Gollancz, 1971

The Left Hand of Darkness. New York, Ace, and London, Macdonald, 1969; 25th anniversary edition, with a new afterword and appendices by the author, New York, Walker, 1994.

The Lathe of Heaven. New York, Scribner, 1971; London, Gollancz, 1972.

The Tombs of Atuan. New York, Atheneum, 1971; London, Gollancz, 1972.

The Farthest Shore. New York, Atheneum, 1972; London, Gollancz, 1973.

The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia. New York, Harper, and London, Gollancz, 1974.

The Word for World Is Forest. New York, Putnam, 1976; London, Gollancz, 1977.

Earthsea. London, Gollancz, 1977; as The Earthsea Trilogy, London, Penguin, 1979.

Malafrena. New York, Putnam, 1979; London, Gollancz, 1980.

The Eye of the Heron. New York, Harper, and London, Gollancz, 1983.

Always Coming Home. New York, Harper, 1985; London, Gollancz, 1986.

Tehanu: The Last Book of Earthsea. New York, Atheneum, and London, Gollancz, 1990.

Buffalo Gals, Won't You Come Out Tonight, illustrated by Susan Seddon Boulet, San Francisco, Pomegranate Artbooks, 1994.

Four Ways to Forgiveness. New York, HarperPrism, 1995.

Short Stories

The Wind's Twelve Quarters. New York, Harper, 1975; London, Gollancz, 1976.

The Water Is Wide. Portland, Oregon, Pendragon Press, 1976.

Orsinian Tales. New York, Harper, 1976; London, Gollancz, 1977.

The Compass Rose. New York, Harper, 1982; London, Gollancz, 1983.

The Visionary: The Life Story of Flicker of the Serpentine, with Wonders Hidden, by Scott Russell Sanders Santa Barbara, California, Capra Press, 1984.

Buffalo Gals and Other Animal Presences. (includes verse) Santa Barbara, California, Capra Press, 1987; as Buffalo Gals, London, Gollancz, 1990.

Searoad. New York, HarperCollins, 1991; London, Gollancz, 1992.

A Fisherman of the Inland Sea: Science Fiction Stories, New York, HarperPerennial, 1994.

Worlds of Exile and Illusion. New York, Orb, 1996.

Fiction (for children)

Very Far Away from Anywhere Else. New York, Atheneun, 1976; as A Very Long Way from Anywhere Else, London, Gollancz, 1976.

Leese Webster. New York, Atheneum, 1979; London, Gollancz, 1981.

The Beginning Place. New York, Harper, 1980; as Threshold, London, Gollancz, 1980

The Adventure of Cobbler's Rune. New York, Virginia, Cheap Street, 1982.

Solomon Leviathan's Nine Hundred and Thirty-First Trip Around the World. New Castle, Virginia, Cheap Street, 1983.

A Visit from Dr Katz. New York, Atheneum, 1988; as Dr Katz, London, Collins, 1988.

Catwings. New York, Orchard, 1988.

Catwings Return. New York, Orchard, 1989.

Fire and Stone. New York, Atheneum, 1989.

A Ride on the Red Mare's Back. New York, Orchard, 1992.

Fish Soup. New York, Atheneum, 1992. Wonderful Alexander and the Catwings. New York, Orchard, 1994.

Tom Mouse, illustrated by Julie Downing, New York, DK, 1998.

Jane on Her Own: A Catwings Tale, illustrations by S.D. Schindler. New York, Orchard Books, 1999.


No Use to Talk to Me, in The Altered Eye, edited by Lee Harding Melbourne, Norstrilia Press, 1976; New York, Berkley, 1980.

King Dog (screenplay), with Dorstoevsky, by Raymond Carver and Tess Gallagher Santa Barbara, California, Capra Press, 1985.


Wild Angels. Santa Barbara, California, Capra Press, 1975.

Tillai and Tylissos, with Theodora K. Quinn. Np, Red Bull Press, 1979.

Torrey Pines Reserve. Northridge, California, Lord John Press, 1980.

Gwilan's Harp. Northridge, California, Lord John Press, 1981.

Hard Words and Other Poems. New York, Harper, 1981.

In the Red Zone. Northridge, California, Lord John Press, 1983.

Wild Oats and Fireweed. New York, Harper, 1988.

Blue Moon over Thurman Street. Portland, Oregon, NewSage Press, 1993.

Going Out with Peacocks and Other Poems New York, HarperPerennial, 1994

Sixty Odd: New Poems. Boston, Shambhala, 1999.


From Elfland to Poughkeepsie (lecture). Portland, Oregon, Pendragon Press, 1973.

Dreams Must Explain Themselves. New York, Algol Press, 1975.

The Language of the Night: Essays on Fantasy and Science Fiction, edited by Susan Wood. New York, Putnam, 1979; revised edition, London, Women's Press, 1989.

The Seasons of Oling: For Narrator, Viola, Cello, Piano, Percussion (words), music by Elinor Armer. Albany, California, Overland Music Distributors, 1987.

Dancing at the Edge of the World: Thoughts on Words, Women, Places. New York, Grove Press, and London, Gollancz, 1989.

The Way the Water's Going: Images of the Northern California Coastal Range, photographs by Ernest Waugh and Alan Nicolson. New York, Harper, 1989.

Tao Te Ching: A Book about the Way and the Power of the Way (Paraphraser, with J.P. Seaton), by Lao Tzu. Boston, Shambhala, 1997.

Steering the Craft: Exercises and Discussions on Story Writing for the Lone Navigator or the Mutinous Crew. Portland, Oregon, Eighth Mountain Press, 1998.

Editor, Nebula Award Stories 11. London, Gollancz, 1976; New York, Harper, 1977.

Editor, with Virginia Kidd, Interfaces. New York, Ace, 1980.

Editor, with Virginia Kidd, Edges. New York, Pocket Books, 1980. Editor, with Brian Attebery, The Norton Book of Science Fiction: North American Science Fiction, 1960-1990. New York, Norton, 1993.

Recordings: The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas, Alternate World, 1976; Gwilan's Harp and Intracom, Caedmon, 1977; The Earthsea Triology, Colophone, 1981; Music and Poetry of the Kesh, Valley Productions, 1985



Ursula K Le Guin: A Primary and Secondary Bibliography by Elizabeth Cummins Cogell, Boston, Hall, 1983.

Manuscript Collection:

University of Oregon Library, Eugene.

Critical Studies:

The Farthest Shores of Ursula K. Le Guin by George Edgar Slusser, San Bernardino, California, Borgo Press, 1976; "Ursula Le Guin Issue" of Science-Fiction Studies (Terre Haute, Indiana), March 1976; Ursula Le Guin by Joseph D. Olander and Martin H. Greenberg, New York, Taplinger, and Edinburgh, Harris, 1979; Ursula K. Le Guin: Voyage to Inner Lands and to Outer Space edited by Joseph W. De Bolt, Port Washington, New York, Kennikat Press, 1979; Ursula K. Le Guin by Barbara J. Bucknall, New York, Ungar, 1981; Ursula K. Le Guin by Charlotte Spivack, Boston, Twayne, 1984; Approaches to the Fiction of Ursula K. Le Guin by James Bittner, Ann Arbor, Michigan, UMI Research Press, and Epping, Essex, Bowker, 1984; Understanding Ursula K. Le Guin by Elizabeth Cummins Cogell, Columbia, University of South Carolina Press, 1990; Zephyr and Boreas: Winds of Change in the Fiction of Ursula K. Le Guin: A Festschrift in Memory of Pilgrim Award Winner, Marjorie Hope Nicolson (1894-1981), edited by Robert Reginald and George Edgar Slusser, San Bernardino, California, Borgo Press, 1996; Between Two Worlds: The Literary Dilemma of Ursula K. Le Guin by George Edgar Slusser, San Bernardino, Calif., Borgo Press, 1996; Presenting Ursula K. Le Guin by Suzanne Elizabeth Reid, New York, Twayne Publishers and London, Prentice Hall International, 1997.

* * *

Ursula K. Le Guin's earliest works attracted, almost exclusively, the devoted audience of science-fiction readers. Rocannon's World, Planet of Exile, and City of Illusions are interconnected novels which depict a situation entirely familiar to such readers. Earth and other planets of a far-future "League of All Worlds" are peopled by "Human" races which must struggle to recognize one another as such. The League prepares to meet a rather vaguely defined invasion from afar. Heroes out of touch with lost civilization undertake quests of self-discovery, or get the enemy's location through to headquarters just in time to repel the invasion. In short, Le Guin offers us space opera, although the delicate tone, the theme of communication, and the imagery of light and darkness suggest her future development.

With The Left Hand of Darkness, The Word for World Is Forest, the Earthsea fantasy trilogy, and The Disposessed, Le Guin moved to another level, and began, deservedly, to attract an audience outside the science-fiction ghetto. The treatment of androgyny in The Left Hand of Darkness has made the book into a minor classic. The League of All Worlds has been succeeded by a non-imperialistic "Ekumen," which sends a lone envoy, Genly Ai, to make an alliance with the isolated planet Winter (Gethen). The Ekumen has no wish to subdue Winter but to extend "the evolutionary tendency inherent in Being; one manifestation of which is exploration." Subverting the stock situation of civilization brought to the savages, Le Guin has Ai learn at least as much from the relatively primitive Gethenians as they from him. Gethenians mate only once a month, and they may adopt alternatively male and females roles. We learn at one point that "the King is pregnant." Ai, a male chauvinist, learns how difficult it is to think of our fellow humans as people rather than as men and women. When he forms an alliance with a Gethenian called Estraven, Ai learns how close together the words "patriot" and "traitor" can be. Ai's loyalty begins to shift from the Ekumen to Gethen, but this shift is a precondition of his mission's success. Conversely, Estraven's loyalty shifts to Ai, but only because he loves his country well enough to want Ai to succeed.

Although Ai and Estraven grow closer to one another, a vast distance also remains between them. Humans are alienated from one another in a wintry universe. But hope springs from the melancholy. The universe is dark but young, and spring will follow winter. The book reverberates with a non-theistic prayer: "Praise then darkness and Creation unfinished."

Although they meet as equal individuals, Ai and Estraven are members of differing societies. Le Guin would insist on Aristotle's definition of people as social animals. In her ambivalent utopia The Dispossessed, Le Guin preserves this insistence—while making it equally clear that anarchism is one of her centers of value. The book is an important break in science fiction's anti-utopian trend. A scientist, Shevek, moves to and fro between an anarchist utopia which is becoming middle-aged, and a world—obviously analogous to our own—that is divided between propertarian (capitalist) and statist (communist) countries. Nowhere does he find full self-expression; conversely, full self-expression requires one's participation in a society. In alternating chapters which disrupt sequential chronology, Shevek moves both away from the anarchist utopia and back toward it. Le Guin identifies herself both as a stylistic artist and as a thinker. Her stark, wintry worlds are philosophically rich with dialectical Taoism, and the co-reality of such opposites as light and darkness, religion and politics, and language and power. In A Wizard of Earthsea the magician has power over things when he knows their true names, so that his power is the artist's power. Le Guin plays with the notion, in "The Author of the Acacia Seeds and Other Extracts from The Journal of the Association of Therolinguistics, " that ants, penguins, and even plants might be producing what could be called language and art.

Since writing The Dispossessed, Le Guin has been turning in the direction of fantasy. Malafrena is a compelling mixture of fantasy and historical fiction. Le Guin sets the imaginary country of Orsinia into central Europe in the 19th century. It is Itale Sorde's story: he rejects the ease of an inherited landed estate (Malafrena) to work for revolution against Orsinia's domination by the Austrian Empire. After being jailed for several years and after a failed insurrection in 1830, he returns to Malafrena, but there are hints that he will leave again. True voyage is return, and structure and theme coalesce, as in The Dispossessed.

In subsequent works Le Guin often presents us with the ambiguity of revolution, once again the theme of a long short story, "The Eye of the Heron." A colony of young counter-culturalists attempts to break away from their elders, with typically ambiguous results. A central paradox in Le Guin's fiction is her simultaneous recognition of the need for harmony and the need for revolt.

Praise for Le Guin has been high—too uniformly high. Her style is unexceptional and her desire for peace and harmony borders on sentimentality at times. But she has taken important steps toward blending politics and art in her novels, and she is still experimenting with both form and content. Thus Always Coming Home both returns to the anthropological format of The Left Hand of Darkness and greatly expands that format. Le Guin has gathered together stories, folklore, histories, and other materials into what she calls "an archaeology" of primitive people living in a far-future northern California. The central story (occupying only a small part of the book) is of the coming of age of the woman "Stone Telling," whose mother lives in the peaceful Valley, which is integrated with nature, and whose father is of the war-like Condor people. Stone Telling leaves her valley to join her father for a while, but she becomes "woman always coming home" when she returns, her to-and-fro motion reminding us of The Dispossessed. When we discover that the Condor can build bridges and that they have electric lights, we may wonder how their traditional culture is supposed to have survived. But Le Guin's ability to capture the language, culture, and thought of primitive people is, despite some lapses, generally remarkable.

Harmony with nature is more than just a greeting card sentiment in Le Guin's short story collection Buffalo Gals and Other Animal Presences and the novel Buffalo Gals, Won't You Come out Tonight. In Animal Presences, the gap between the natural world and the human has become a virtual chasm. Shifting points of view allow even a lab rat his voice of protest. But voice alone is not sufficient to narrow the gap: one must set fire to complacency and open oneself up to hearing voices other than one's own, as in the story "May's Lion," about a woman who transcends her fears to help a mountain lion to die. The intriguing novella Buffalo Gals, Won't You Come out Tonight, which first appeared in the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, is a parable of the disintegrating relationship between hu-mankind and the natural world. A remarkably resilient girl-child survives a plane crash only to find herself in different plane of reality, a desert world not unlike pre-settlement America, where the line between animals and man is less clearly drawn. As the girl becomes increasingly aware of the sour smell of humanity and its encroachments, she becomes more and more uprooted and unsure of her place. She eventually returns to her own people, but with an eye, both figuratively and literally, to seeing the world differently. Although occasionally heavy-handed, the story is compelling and visually rich. The girl protagonist speaks with the recognizable and sympathetic voice of a child.

The short story collection, Searoad, reveals how definitions of mainstream fiction and science fiction are not mutually exclusive. Though clearly a work of realistic fiction, the novel contains aspects of myth and ritual that fall into the realm of fantasy. Each story can be read as a separate entity, yet each contributes to one unified vision. This vision is unabashedly feminist, and as such is chiefly and somewhat exclusively concerned with the lives of women. Set in the small resort town of Klatsand, located on the Oregon coast, the stories contrast the different ways in which males and females communicate, the first being authoritative and unyielding, the other conversational and communal. This rigid polarity marks one of the problems with the novel, especially in terms of its persuasiveness. Male characters are impotent, if not downright evil; female characters are still waters running effortlessly deep. This seems to diminish rather than enhance believability. In addition, one questions the validity of rejecting outright the male world as a means of acquiring personal freedom. Nonetheless, characterization is compelling enough to sustain interest. One admires the resiliency of women who have also recognized the incontrovertibility of choice, or as the character Jilly in the story "In and Out" realizes, "doing something wasn't just a kind of practice for something that would keep happening …. You didn't get to practice".

In A Fisherman of the Inland Sea, Le Guin returns to science fiction, with a disparate collection of tales, both humorous and serious, that asserts many of the recurrent themes in her work: the responsibility we have to nature; cultural diversity and ethnic tolerance; the importance of communication in spite of the inadequacies of language; and the interdependency of peoples. Among the most compelling stories in the collection is "Newton's Sleep," which casts a circumspect eye on the elitism of technology and suggests the need for the irrational, for the unknown and unseen in our lives. As with all of the author's work, this collection seeks to expand and challenge the reader's ideas as to what it means to be human. In Four Ways to Forgiveness, a quartet of novellas, Le Guin returned to the Hainish culture first examined in The Left Hand of Darkness. This time, however, the setting runs as far afield as the planets Werel and Yeowe, explained by the author in copious footnotes; and the roles of men and women are treated with much greater complexity and reality.

—Curtis C. Smith,

updated by Lynda Schrecengost

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