American Literature Ursula K. Le Guin
by
Sandra J. Lindow
  • LAST MODIFIED: 15 January 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199827251-0210

Introduction

One of the most influential voices in contemporary American literature, Ursula K. Le Guin (b. 1929–d. 2018) began publishing in the 1960s and soon became known for her courageous exploration of ethics, ecology, and diversity using fantastic and futuristic settings. Elevating fantasy and science fiction from pulp-era sword and sorcery and space opera, her fiction explores and condemns chauvinistic traditions of colonialism, nationalism, sexism, and racism. Through her literary approach to genre themes and settings, she inspired not only generations of genre writers but also many mainstream writers who incorporated fantastic elements in their work. Ursula Kroeber was born on in Berkeley, California. Her parents were the Alfred Kroeber, pioneering anthropologist, and Theodora Kroeber, author of Ishi in Two Worlds. She graduated from Radcliffe College in 1951, earned a masters degree from Columbia University in 1952, and married historian Charles Le Guin in 1953. A prolific writer, she published more than sixty books including novels for adults and young adults, picture books, short story collections, critical nonfiction, poetry, screenplays, and works of translation. Genre and mainstream recognition occurred throughout her career. Her first fantasy novel, A Wizard of Earthsea (1968), earned the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award. Her groundbreaking novel The Left Hand of Darkness (1969) won Hugo and Nebula Awards. She was only the second woman to receive both honors for one book. The Farthest Shore (1973) won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. The Dispossessed (1974) won Locus, Nebula, and Hugo Awards. Overall, her novels alone received five Locus, four Nebulas, two Hugos, and one World Fantasy Award. In 1989 she accepted the Pilgrim Award for her critical work. In 1994, 1996, and 1997, she earned Tiptree Awards for her exploration of gender through her depiction of androgyny and alternative cultures that privilege nonheteronormative marriage. Le Guin’s lifetime achievement awards recognize her importance in American literature. In 2000, the US Library of Congress named her a Living Legend for her significant contributions to America’s cultural heritage. In 2002, she won the PEN/Malamud Award for excellence in short fiction and the Grand Master Award from the Science Fiction Writers Association. In 2014, she received the National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. In his introduction to her National Book Award acceptance speech, author Neil Gaiman describes her as someone who made him not only a better writer but also a better person as a writer.

General Overviews

The size of Le Guin’s body of work is such that book-length overviews cannot cover everything of literary significance but must focus thematically. Although it is limited to her early work, Bittner 1984 provides initial insight into Le Guin’s themes and her dynamic fictional movement toward community, which was further explored in Rochelle 2001. Spivak 1984 and Cummins 1993 also provide valuable groundwork for critical discussion, especially related to teaching Le Guin’s work. White 1999 focuses on Le Guin’s relationship with her critics and has inspired later work by Cadden and Lindow regarding Le Guin’s children’s books. Overall, Rochelle 2001, Cadden 2005, Bernardo and Murphy 2006, Erlich 2010, Clarke 2010, and Lindow 2012 approach Le Guin’s oeuvre from slightly different thematic directions but largely agree on her importance in the genre.

  • Bernardo, Susan M., and Graham J. Murphy. Ursula K. Le Guin: A Critical Companion. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2006.

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    Survey of Le Guin’s fiction written for high school and undergraduate students. Follows Greenwood’s format beginning with biography and an interview. “The Literary Genealogy of Science Fiction and Ursula K. Le Guin” explains SF through S. R. Delany’s concept of subjunctivity. Chapters summarize major work including the Earthsea Series, The Left Hand of Darkness, The Lathe of Heaven, The Dispossessed, The Eye of the Heron, and The Telling.

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  • Bittner, James. Approaches to the Fiction of Ursula K. Le Guin. Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1984.

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    Early published dissertation argues that Le Guin works within the romantic tradition explicated in pioneering work by Kathryn Hume and Joseph Campbell. Suggests plot structures consist of a journey outward followed by a spiral back home. Promotes thematic pairings of Earthsea, Hainish, and Orsinian fiction. Demonstrates Theodore Kroeber’s literary influence. See White 1999. Limited in that later work such as Always Coming Home and Tehanu react against romantic journey endings.

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  • Cadden, Mike. Ursula K. Le Guin beyond Genre. New York: Routledge, 2005.

    DOI: 10.4324/9780203997116Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Explores the breadth of Le Guin’s work, including children’s picture and chapter books and young adult novels. Emphasizes her mainstream crossover appeal. Offers thorough discussion of her narrative techniques. Demonstrates how her work functions as a linked series of genre-blending “thought experiments.” Explores Le Guin’s anthropomorphism, character development, depiction of home, and guiding ethical compass. Concludes with a lengthy interview, a helpful chronological table, and extensive notes.

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  • Clarke, Amy M. Ursula K. Le Guin’s Journey to Post-Feminism. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2010.

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    Looks through the lens of modern gender theory and practice to view Le Guin’s career-spanning feminist evolution. Reflects how Le Guin’s paradigm shift in the 1970s to feminism profoundly affected her work thematically and structurally. Emphasizes Le Guin’s rejection of masculinism and sexual separatism to valorize community and balance over individual heroism. Excellent analysis of her rethinking of sexuality as depicted in the Earthsea Series. Includes references to her poetry.

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  • Cummins, Elizabeth. Understanding Ursula K. Le Guin. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1993.

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    Trade paperback updates earlier 1990 edition with another chapter and an extended bibliography. Solid introduction to Le Guin’s early and mid-career work through Tehanu. Particularly strong in its discussion of Always Coming Home, Le Guin’s controversial postmodernist, ethnographic novel, and “The New Atlantis,” which has recently been given renewed attention due to predicted effects of global warming. Highlights emergence and evolution of Le Guin’s ideas regarding gender.

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  • Erlich, Richard D. Coyote’s Song: The Teaching Stories of Ursula K. Le Guin. Cabin John, MD: Borgo Press, 2010.

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    Major comprehensive survey of Le Guin’s fiction, poetry, and children’s books with detailed analysis reflecting over thirty years of study regarding Le Guin’s intention to teach through her writing. Particular strength is in contextualization of Le Guin’s lesser-known work. Cogent analysis of her quarrels with Christianity and corresponding use of Daoism and other world mythology in creating an ethical structure for her fiction.

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  • Lindow, Sandra. Dancing the Tao: Le Guin and Moral Development. Newcastle, UK: Cambridge Scholars, 2012.

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    Comprehensive examination of Le Guin’s interrelated fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. Traces her depiction of moral development from infancy through moral maturity as influenced by her lifelong commitment to Taoism. Further insight provided through research by feminist moral theorists such as Carol Gilligan and Mary Field Belenky. Focuses on Le Guin’s evolving response to the long-term traumatic effects of violence and abuse. Includes discussion of picture books and poetry.

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  • Rochelle, Warren G. Communities of the Heart: The Rhetoric of Myth in the Fiction of Ursula K. Le Guin. Liverpool, UK: Liverpool University Press, 2001.

    DOI: 10.5949/liverpool/9780853238768.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Places Le Guin within the historical and sociocultural context of American writers such as Emerson, Thoreau, and Dewey, a legacy of romantic imagination that is reimagined for her own purposes. Relates her recurring emphasis on the power of naming, reflecting, and rethinking theorists of language, culture, and myth such as Lev Vygotsky, Carl Jung, and Joseph Campbell. Focuses on her valorization of community.

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  • Spivak, Charlotte. Ursula K. Le Guin. Boston: Twayne, 1984.

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    Influential introductory survey of Le Guin’s science fiction and fantasy, including discussion of nonfiction, poetry, personal conversations, and interviews. Provides biography, chronology, intellectual background, literary influences, and analysis of key work through 1981. Insightful but published prior to the full flowering of Le Guin’s feminism. Analysis of Malafrena limited by the traditional academic mindset that follows the hero’s storyline without mentioning contributions of female characters. See Clarke 2010.

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  • White, Donna R. Dancing with Dragons: Le Guin and the Critics. Columbia, SC: Camden House, 1999.

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    Examines how Le Guin’s academic education enabled a continuing dialogue with her critics, regarding evolving views on feminism, environmentalism, and utopia. Examines various strands of Le Guin criticism, demonstrating how critical interaction informed and influenced Le Guin’s work and critical stance. Focalizes emergence of Le Guin’s reputation as a major American voice and suggests need for increased critical attention on her writing for children.

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Genre Criticism, Journals, and Critical Anthologies

Le Guin began reading genre magazines as a child. By the 1950s there was a sizable fanbase for science fiction and fantasy, but genre writing was not considered worthy of scholarly study. However, the New Wave SF Movement of the 1960s brought writers like Le Guin who wrote against genre expectations as well as higher literary standards for the genre. The Science Fiction Research Association was founded in 1970 to be followed in 1982 by the International Association for Fantastic in the Arts. Both organizations worked to legitimize genre criticism by creating journals and giving awards for scholarship. Beginning with her 1969 awards, the Hugo, voted by fans, and the Nebula, voted by fellow writers, Le Guin began to receive scholarly attention. Much of the early scholarship involved teaching strategies, and by the mid-1980s, Le Guin study was common in university classrooms. Since then, critical conversation regarding her work and her place within the genre has been significant. Her influence has been such that in the 21st century, articles on her fiction appear not only in genre journals but also in other specialized academic journals such as Utopian Studies and the Annals of the Association of American Geographers.

Book-Length Genre Criticism

The complexity of Le Guin’s work has inspired a wide range of genre criticism. Critics of speculative fiction see her work as an intrinsic part of its maturation as a genre. Increasingly sophisticated contemporary criticism incorporates bildungsroman, anarchism, Marxism, Taoism, utopian studies, ecology, linguistics, semiotics, postcolonialism, postmodernism, feminism, and gender. Lefanu 1988 acknowledges her importance within feminist SF but critiques her essentialist attitudes regarding female agency, marriage, and family. Lenz 2001 is intended for teachers of children’s literature. The author of Attebery 2002 reflects on science-fictional responses to gender, interweaving Le Guin’s work throughout his insightful text. Byrne 2000 regards her later work in terms of South Africa’s postcolonial narratology. Jameson 2005 focuses on reduced consumption in her utopias. Oziewicz 2008 explores how she incorporates Taoist-inspired mysticism without deity. Burling 2009 applies Marxist theory to music in The Dispossessed, and Prettyman 2014 builds on Jameson, updating the continuing relevance of her emphasis on reduced consumption of natural resources.

  • Attebery, Brian. “Androgyny as Difference.” In Decoding Gender in Science Fiction. By Brian Attebery, 129–150. New York: Routledge, 2002.

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    Pioneering study of how science fiction writers incorporate, explore, and transform gender in their work with particular emphasis on depiction of gender in Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness. Also mentions “Coming of Age in Karhide,” “The Matter of Seggri,” and “Winter’s King.” Lucid accessible prose introduces gender as central to the study of SF.

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  • Burling, William J. “Art as ‘the Basic Technique of Life’: Utopian Art and Art in Utopia in The Dispossessed and Blue Mars.” In Red Planets: Marxism and Science Fiction. Edited by Mark Bould and China Miéville, 47–58. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2009.

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    Uses Marxist theory to analyze art and music as a function of community on the anarchist planet of Anarres.

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  • Byrne, Dierdre. “Truth and Story: History in Ursula K. Le Guin’s Short Fiction and the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission.” In Future Females, The Next Generation: New Voices in Science Fiction Criticism. Edited by Marleen S. Barr, 237–246. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2000.

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    Focuses on “A Man of the People,” “A Woman’s Liberation,” and “Another Story” (see Four Ways to Forgiveness and A Fisherman of the Inland Sea under Hainish Series Science Fiction) regarding the South African Commission’s personal narrations of injustices and atrocities living under Apartheid rule. Explores connection between autobiography and history and Le Guin’s implication that revolution does not automatically yield liberty. Cites Francois Lyotard and Michel Foucault.

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  • Jameson, Frederic. “World Reduction in Le Guin.” In Archaeologies of the Future: The Desire Called Utopia and Other Science Fiction. By Frederic Jameson, 267–280. London: Verso, 2005.

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    Major pioneering study of utopia in science fiction, covering thirty years of research in the field. Incorporates Le Guin throughout the book as a whole, with over fifty mentions, building on Jameson’s much-quoted Science Fiction Studies essay, “World Reduction in Le Guin: The Emergence of Utopian Narrative” (1975).

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  • Lefanu, Sarah. “Inner Space and the Outer Lands: Ursula K. Le Guin.” In In the Chinks of the World Machine: Feminism and Science Fiction. By Sarah Lefanu, 130–146. London: The Women’s Press, 1988.

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    Influential early work of feminist SF. Mentions Le Guin throughout and with particular emphasis on her self-perceived and self-critical development as a writer, beginning with “A Citizen of Mondath” (1972). Lauds her use of “what if?” Critiques the stereotypic, secondary use of female characters in her early fiction, and the privileging of heterosexual male superiority and the nuclear, monogamous family, a critique Le Guin is to acknowledge and eventually change.

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  • Lenz, Millicent. “Ursula K. Le Guin.” In Alternative Worlds in Fantasy Fiction. Edited by Peter Hunt and Millicent Lenz, 42–85. New York: Continuum, 2001.

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    Introduction to the evolution of the Earthsea Series through Tehanu. Intended for teaching children’s and YA literature. Includes further readings and a brief biography. Places it within fantasy in relationship to earlier writers such as Tolkien and Joseph Campbell. Short sections explore rites of passage, worldbuilding, metaphors of gift and shadow, liminality, the nature of mortality, and the mystery of death.

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  • Oziewicz, Marek. “Rediscovering Harmony: Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea Sequence (1964–2001).” In One Earth, One People: The Mythopoeic Fantasy Series of Ursula K. Le Guin, Lloyd Alexander, Madeleine L’Engle and Orson Scott Card. By Marek Oziewicz, 118–143. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2008.

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    Explores quests for individual, social, and political harmony in her Earthsea Series. Discusses her lifelong interest in Taoism, particularly the yin-yang doctrine in response to Judeo-Christian cosmogony. Describes her use of the supernatural as “quintessentially mystical.” Cites Jung’s concepts of individuation, the unconscious, and the shadow in response to coming of age and “growth to wholeness.” Valuable discussion of revisioned gender, female heroism, and the importance of death in the later Earthsea stories.

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  • Prettyman, Gib. “Daoism, Ecology and World Reduction in Le Guin’s Utopian Fictions.” In Green Planets, Ecology and Science Fiction. Edited by Gerry Canavan and Kim Stanley Robinson, 56–76. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2014.

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    Compares criticism by Jameson and Suvin regarding Le Guin’s evolving utopian concepts. Insightful explanation of how her Daoist “critical framework” uses yin and yang for balance. Supports the importance of her emphasis on reducing consumption particularly regarding early-21st-century epidemics of obesity and diabetes and global warming.

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Dedicated Issues of Journals and Anthologies of Criticism

In response to her accumulating awards, a still-cited special issue of Suvin 1975 was devoted to study of Le Guin’s work, including Watson’s cogent discussion of her use of forest as metaphor of mind and Jameson’s analysis of her utopian narrative. Underlining her ongoing interaction with her critics, this issue also includes her controversial essay “Science Fiction and the Other,” which initiated early dialogue regarding SF’s problem with what is now labeled white privilege. Olander and Greenberg 1979 explores major themes in her early work. In 1991, a dedicated issue of Utopian Studies explores “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas,” her award-winning most anthologized story, awards for her late career work have also inspired critical anthologies published in the 21st century. Davis and Stillman 2005 demonstrates the continuing popularity of The Dispossessed with anarchist scholars thirty years after its publication. The 2006 special issue of the journal Extrapolation provides essays by a loosely knit community of Le Guin scholars, many of whom have been reading her since the 1960s, others who had not yet been born. A 2008 issue of Paradoxa views her via new critical theory. Overall these essays represent a rich and continually evolving conversation.

  • Davis, Laurence, and Peter Stillman, eds. The New Utopian Politics of Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Dispossessed. New York: Lexington Books, 2005.

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    Sixteen well-developed academic essays provide a sustained examination of The Dispossessed. Essays focalize Le Guin’s revisioning of revolutionary theory, postmodern utopia, and anarchism as well as her emphasis on balancing individual needs with those of community. Includes Elliot’s cogent discussion of invisible walls and personal utopia. Concludes with “A Response, by Ansible, from Tau Ceti,” Le Guin’s frank response to these critics, which emphasizes the importance of contextualizing her previous work.

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  • Kelso, Sylvia, ed. Special Issue: Ursula K. Le Guin. Paradoxa 21 (2008).

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    Special issue with introduction by Kelso. Regards Le Guin via new critical theory, including feminist-informed posthumanism (Kasi Jackson), terrorism (Marleen S. Barr), superstring theory (Beth Snowberger), and subaltern deconstructions of the frontier (Traci Thomas-Card) as well as essays by Darko Suvin, Amy Clarke, Richard D. Erlich, and Warren Rochelle, and a review of Davis and Stillman 2005 by Mike Cadden.

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  • Levy, Michael, and Sandra Lindow, eds. Extrapolation 47.3 (Winter 2006).

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    Special issue of this journal celebrates Ursula K. Le Guin. The guest editors, Michael Levy and Sandra Lindow, introduce nine academic essays. Contributors include Mike Cadden, Ria Cheyne, Richard Erlich, Sonja Fritzsche, Sandra Lindow, Alexis Lothian, Warren G. Rochelle, Andy Sawyer, and Darko Suvin. Essays examine Le Guin’s ongoing quarrel with God, feminist transformation, pastoral tradition, young adult novels, and German responses to her work.

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  • Olander, Joseph D., and Martin Harry Greenberg, eds. Ursula K. Le Guin. New York: Taplinger, 1979.

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    Early anthology of essays explores thematic aspects of Le Guin’s Earthsea and Hainish novels including Jungian influences, exploration of androgyny, Taoist-influenced anarchism, utopian theory, and the dynamic interconnection between humanity and the natural world. Eleven well-chosen academic critics dissect Le Guin’s major and minor work setting groundwork for further research. Brennan and Downs’ “Anarchism and Utopian Tradition in The Dispossessed” has proven particularly influential for Marxist scholars.

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  • Sargent, Lyman Tower, ed. Utopian Studies 2.1/2 (1991): 6–18.

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    A thought-provoking “Featured Discussion of Ursula K. Le Guin’s ‘Omelas’” begins with a reprint of the story followed by a close reading and contextual utopian discussion by Kenneth J. Roemer. Elizabeth Cummins, Peter Fitting, Carol D. Stevens, Rebecca Adams, and Lee Cullen Khanna respond to Roemer’s conclusions. Roemer then wraps up the discussion by responding to issues presented by the others.

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  • Suvin, Darko, ed. “The Science Fiction of Ursula K. Le GuinScience Fiction Studies 7.2 Part 3 (1975).

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    Influential special issue edited by Darko Suvin. Includes bibliography by Jeff Levin and essays by Rafail Nudelman, Fredric Jameson, Ian Watson, John Huntington, David L. Porter, Douglas Barbour, Judah Bierman, Donald F. Theall, and Suvin that respond to Le Guin’s SF with particular emphasis on The Dispossessed, The Word for World Is Forest, and “Vaster than Empires” (see under Hainish Series Science Fiction). Precedence for discussion regarding Le Guin’s anarchy and symbology.

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Separate Journal Articles

Initial critical response to Le Guin’s work came in recognition of her early awards for the Earthsea Series, The Left Hand of Darkness, and The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia. Barbour 1974 initiated critical discussion regarding Le Guin’s Taoist influences. Bitner 1978 argues the importance of her often ignored Orsinian tales. Although critical attention dwindled somewhat in the 1980s, the publication of Tehanu (1990) (see under Earthsea Series Fantasy) and the further feminist revisioning of Earthsea that followed (see Cummins 1990; also Clarke 2010 and Lindow 2012 under General Overviews) brought a resurgence of academic interest that resulted in increased journal publication throughout the 1990s and in the 21st century. There are many areas of contemporary thought where her work continues to inspire scholarship. Thorpe 2004 examines her response to aging. Call 2007 explicates her postmodern use of anarchism. Robinson 2008 and Robinson 2010 review psycholinguistic implications of her use of names. Nadir 2010 builds on Jameson’s analysis of utopia built on scarcity (see Jameson 2005, cited under Book-Length Genre Criticism). Kallis and March 2015 introduces the concept of utopian “degrowth.” Burgmann 2016 discusses her pioneering work in what is now called the cli-fi (climate change) subgenre. Lindow 2018 analyzes the moral evolution of her Hainish culture.

Reference Books and Encyclopedias

These highly regarded encyclopedia and reference book articles provide peer-reviewed introductions by experts in the field. Herbert 1986 highlights major themes in Le Guin’s early and mid-career work. Articles by Clute 1997 and Nicholls and Clute 2018 provide comprehensive insights including awards. D’Ammassa 2005 focuses solely on Le Guin’s SF. Kaplan 2009 and Pearson 2010 reflect on gender in her adult fiction while Cadden 2006 focuses primarily on her work for children and young adults.

Bibliographies

Partial bibliographies have been published throughout her career; however, Science Fiction and Fantasy Research Data Base at Texas A & M University has the most complete record of scholarly writing to date although it does not include annotations. Ursula K. Le Guin Official Website, created by Vonda N. McIntyre, provides the most complete listing of her writing and awards, including author-preferred editions and links to helpful related work. Fantastic Fiction is a colorful high-tech commercial website with links to various editions of Le Guin’s work. Science Fiction Studies is one of the oldest and most prestigious journals in the field. Digitized back issues of the journal provide a wealth of scholarly perception into Le Guin’s fiction. Locus On-line is a highly respected genre magazine intended for fans as well as scholars. Its featured articles, book reviews, and interviews provide valuable insights.

Primary Texts

Le Guin was exceptional in that she achieved recognition in so many different areas of writing. Her oeuvre comprises twenty-three novels, twelve volumes of short stories and novellas, eleven volumes of poetry, thirteen children’s picture books, eight collections of essays, and four volumes of translation. Her nonfictional teaching essays and critical responses have informed the genre’s developing self-awareness. Most of her fiction can be separated into series. Her Hainish Series Science Fiction has become part of Speculative’s literary canon, as has her Earthsea Series Fantasy. Her Alternate History: Orsinia and Beyond remains important due to its reflection of postcolonial and Cold War politics. Her Interstitial SF and Other Fantasy crosses genres to combine fantastic settings and tropes with environmentalism, postcolonialism, and developmental psychology, offering much for scholarship. Her Young Adult Literature, and Picture Books reflect similar themes but are adjusted to fit the developmental interests of young people. Her Editing and Translation also reflect her abiding themes.

Le Guin’s Nonfiction

Along with Joanna Russ, Le Guin was one of the primary founders of feminist SF criticism during the 1970s. Her prolific nonfiction includes critical essays, speeches, and book reviews. Steering the Craft (2015) is a guide for learning and teaching writing. Other essays attempt to explore the functionality of the genre or reference specific literary works she found helpful while constructing her fiction, authors as varied as Alfred Kroeber, Lao Tzu, Carl Jung, Peter Kropotkin, and Marshall McLuhan. Beginning in the 70s, her essays embrace subjectivism, transgressing boundaries of objective scholarly writing to include her emotions. They straightforwardly reflect anger regarding power imbalances and valorize nonbinary approaches to gender. The Language of the Night (1979) describes her helpless frustration regarding the Vietnam War and her anger “as a woman.” Dancing at the Edge of the World (1989) emphasizes her substantial rethinking of gender, “Is Gender Necessary? Redux,” and includes her influential “Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction” (1986). “Earthsea Revisioned” (1992) elaborates her literary campaign regarding the importance of women’s stories that transcend stereotype. “On Not Reading Science Fiction” (1984) explains how secondary worlds can be used to focalize cultural problems. The Wave in the Mind: Talks and Essays on the Writer, the Reader, and the Imagination (2004) explores aspects of the writing process including poetry. Cheek by Jowl (2009) highlights the importance of the animal Other. Words Are My Matter (2016) includes her 2014 National Book Award acceptance speech, which takes aim at publishers that put sales ahead of art and retail giants that pressure them to do so. Blog posts published in No Time to Spare (2017) lack the theoretical grounding of her mid-career but focus on her wealth of life experience and the vexing problems of aging. Twenty-first-century attention to Le Guin’s nonfiction continues undiminished as a result of her lifetime achievement awards as well as the ongoing genre-changing dialogue she maintained with her audience regarding the need for a world that is both consensual and ethical. Her National Book Foundation acceptance speech calls for writers who “can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies, to other ways of being, and even imagine new grounds for hope” (Words Are My Matter, p. 113).

  • Le Guin, Ursula K. “American SF and the Other.” In Special Issue: The Science Fiction of Ursula K. Le Guin. Edited by Darko Suvin. Science Fiction Studies 7.2 Part 3 (November 1975): 208–210.

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    Le Guin critiques the low status of women in science fiction, reflecting but not naming early feminist critic Joanna Russ, then expands her discussion to the persistent SF otherizing of aliens and the lower classes, creating “a permanent hierarchy of superiors and inferiors.” This theme is further explored in The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia (See under Hainish Series Science Fiction), which then becomes the basis for further thought experiment in The Word for World Is Forest.

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  • Le Guin, Ursula K. The Language of the Night. Edited by Susan Wood. New York: Putnam, 1979.

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    Highly influential book of literary criticism, essays, book reviews, and introductions published between 1973 and 1978. Sets a theoretical background for prior and further fiction, describes the importance of dragons, dreams, gender, and Jungian concepts of the Shadow, myth, and archetype. “A Citizen of Mondath” describes her early writing; “Science Fiction and Mrs. Brown” critiques contemporary science fiction.

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  • Le Guin, Ursula K. Dancing at the Edge of the World: Thoughts on Words, Women, Places. New York: Harper and Row, 1989.

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    Building on LON, these groundbreaking talks, essays, and book reviews cemented Le Guin’s 1989 Pilgrim Award from the Science Fiction Research Association. Includes her influential “Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction.” Highlights feminist moral reasoning regarding family planning. “The Princess” (1982) courageously reflects on having had an abortion. “A Non-Euclidean View of California as a Cold Place to Be” (1982) is particularly relevant regarding the present global warming crisis.

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  • Le Guin, Ursula K. “Earthsea Revisioned.” London: Green Bay, 1993.

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    An influential lecture given on 7 August 1992 at Worlds Apart, an institute sponsored by Children’s Literature New England at Keble College, Oxford University, UK. Elaborates her rethinking of the original Earthsea trilogy, forming a theoretical basis for further books and stories in the series. Must-read for scholars writing about her fantasy. Included as part of The Books of Earthsea: The Complete Illustrated Edition (2018).

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  • Le Guin, Ursula K. The Wave in the Mind: Talks and Essays on the Writer, the Reader, and the Imagination. Boston: Shambhala, 2004.

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    Contains “Introducing Myself” a humorous critique of being no longer young in a culture still hyper-focused on youth and dominated by male obsession with female beauty; “Indian Uncles,” a 1991 speech describing multicultural influences in her upbringing. Analyzes the Sleeping Beauty myth as it relates to puberty. Discusses writing craft concepts such as subjectivity versus objectivity and how life experience becomes compost for the writer’s imagination.

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  • Le Guin, Ursula K. Cheek by Jowl. Seattle: Aqueduct Press, 2009.

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    Won the 2009 Locus Award for critical nonfiction. Describes fantasy as a vehicle for examining good and evil. Focuses primarily on children’s and YA literature. Criticizes book reviewers for missing a book’s literary heritage. Includes her important essay “Animals in Children’s Literature.” Describes the tragedy of a human-centered world where the animal Other is no longer important. Discusses the nature of animal language and various methods for telling animal stories.

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  • Le Guin, Ursula K. Steering the Craft: A 21st Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story. Boston: Mariner Books, 2015.

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    Originally written in 1998 and based on her writing workshop of the same name, then revised based on reader feedback and the vast changes that occurred in publishing between publications. Emphasizes her belief that writing is essentially a craft that can be learned and improved through attention and self-discipline.

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  • Le Guin, Ursula K. Words Are My Matter. Easthampton, MA: Small Beer Press, 2016.

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    Late-career series of speeches, essays, book reviews, and introductions reflecting her awareness that she has earned sufficient audience respect to speak bluntly about the literary world. Contains her 2002 lecture on imagination, “The Operating Instructions,” her essay “The Death of the Book,” her controversial 2014 National Book Award acceptance speech, “Freedom,” and her hilarious spoof “On Serious Literature.” “Living in a Work of Art” describes her childhood home.

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  • Le Guin, Ursula K. “On Not Reading Science Fiction.” In Hainish Novels and Stories. Vol. 2. By Ursula K. Le Guin, 758–762. New York: Library of America, 2017a.

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    Originally published as the 1994 introduction to her short story collection, A Fisherman of the Inland Sea. Explains how the nature of science fiction allows a “freedom of metaphor” which provides safe ways for critiquing human behavior. Critiques the imperialism of high technocracy, suggesting that native people employed technology in their craft and analyzes why some report not liking to read science fiction.

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  • Le Guin, Ursula K. No Time to Spare: Thinking about What Matters. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017b.

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    This last book of essays won the 2018 Hugo for work related to the study of speculative fiction. Forty-one blog posts written between 2010 and 2014 plus an introduction by Karen Joy Fowler. Honest, engaging reflections of life lived profoundly despite declining physical ability. Cats, correspondence, swearwords and shockwords, refusing awards, thoughts on narrative, poetry, anger, imaginary horses, and removing rattlesnakes. Important insight for anyone struggling with aging. Daily life made meaningful through deep consideration.

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Le Guin’s Fiction

Le Guin’s fiction is speculative due to the “what if” nature of her thought experiments. It can be further categorized as alternate history, science fiction, fantasy, magic realism, and interstitial (work that incorporates two or more categories). The majority of her novels and stories are developed in series set in imaginary worlds. Most of her series are in print and will remain in print thanks partially to the Library of America (LOA), which is in the process of republishing her work in high quality authoritative clothbound editions as part of its celebration of America’s most influential writers, books that are intended to last due to a painstaking print process that requires printing with the grain to keep the high-quality Smyth-sewn binding from cracking and letting the books lie completely flat. LOA has published her complete Orsinian Series in 2016 and her complete Hainish Series Science Fiction in 2017. LOA’s 2019 publication of Le Guin’s omnibus experimental novel, Always Coming Home (1985), includes related material not previously published. Illustrated by award-winning artist Charles Vess, her complete The Books of Earthsea: The Complete Illustrated Edition has been published in a single volume, Saga Press (2018). The Earthsea books can also be purchased separately from HMH Books for Young Readers, a division of Harcourt. Her Western Shore YA Fantasy trilogy for young adults was published between 2004 and 2007 and is available as a hardcover set from Harcourt. Kindle editions are also available. Small Beer Press’s 2012 two-volume collection of her short stories, The Unreal and the Real: Selected Short Stories of Ursula K. Le Guin, is high quality and readily available, providing an excellent introduction to Le Guin’s various short story series. Used copies of Le Guin’s fiction are usually available. According to the Internet Speculative Fiction Data Base (cited under Bibliographies), Le Guin’s work has also been translated into more than a dozen foreign languages.

Hainish Series Science Fiction

The Hainish Series extrapolates several million years to reflect on possibilities for human evolution. Although it highlights progress in quantum mechanics and particle physics, it is not hard science fiction. Intrusion of the mystical occurs throughout. (The Telling [2000], for example, depicts unexplained levitation.) From the beginning, her work demonstrates competing dynamics of good and evil, condemning colonialism and developing instantaneous communication and faster-than-light travel to facilitate moral community. In the far distant past, the Hain genetically seeded the human universe, lost contact, then rediscovered and offered aid to their lost colonies via nonmilitary Ekumenical ambassadors. “Semley’s Necklace,” her first SF sale, retells a tragic Norse myth with a time dilation twist. Her first three novellas, Rocannon’s World (1966), Planet of Exile (1966), and City of Illusions (1967), are futuristic planetary romances. Further exploration of this universe engendered an award-winning sequence of novels originally published between 1969 and 2000. Following a thought experiment template, these linked stories incorporate a Taoist-influenced Marxian dialectic where opposing forces are confronted and eventually balanced. The Left Hand of Darkness (1969) focalizes the radically different viewpoints of a straitlaced heterosexual diplomat and an ambisexual politician. Responding to the Vietnam War’s massive ecological and cultural damage, The Word for World Is Forest (1972) examines the destruction of a preindustrial utopian community by a xenophobic corporate/military captain. The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia (1974) takes an austere Marxist utopia-in-progress on a resource-poor moon and pairs it with a decadently capitalist resource-rich planet, then analyzes the effects on individual rights and freedoms. Later novellas and stories in the series, collected in Four Ways to Forgiveness, The Birthday of the World and Other Stories, and A Fisherman of the Inland Sea, envision evolving cultures with differing social mores surrounding gender, marriage, and moral development. The entire series can be read in a two-volume set published by the LOA, The Hainish Novels and Stories (2017). This authorized publication identifies her novella “Old Music and the Slave Women” as part of Four Ways to Forgiveness, renaming the series “Five Ways to Forgiveness.” The Telling chronologically follows FWF and concerns the damaging neocolonial effects of technological progress. Overall, her evolved Hainish culture suggests a moral template that allows individuals and communities to be both self-governing and peaceful rather than trapped by power structures that privilege the wealthy and powerful.

  • Le Guin, Ursula K. The Left Hand of Darkness. New York: Ace, 1987.

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    Originally published in 1969, groundbreaking multiple award-winning masterpiece establishes Le Guin’s reputation for literary genius. Examines gender and sociopolitical characteristics of androgynous Gethenians viewed through the bifocal lens of an interstellar diplomat and an ambisexual politician. Taoist-inspired symbolism light/dark, hot/cold, male/female structures this otherwise loosely structured novel.

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  • Le Guin, Ursula K. The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia. New York: Harper Voyager, 1994a.

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    Originally published in 1974, tour de force multiple award-winning examination of anarchy and utopia-in-progress continues the world of her short story “The Day Before the Revolution” (1974). The life of a theoretical physicist examines individual needs versus the needs of community. Open-ended novel structured through character and symbolism reflects the insidious nature of re-emergent hierarchical power structures and the necessity of vigilance in protecting personal creativity and revolutionary ideals.

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  • Le Guin, Ursula K. A Fisherman of the Inland Sea. New York: Harper Prism, 1994b.

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    Remarkable sequence of eight short stories reflecting the relationship between humans and the unknown Other. “The Shobies’ Story” (1990), “Dancing to Ganam” (1993), and “A Fisherman of the Inland Sea” (1994) continue Le Guin’s examination of the subjective and relative nature of time that was begun in The Dispossessed. “Dancing to Ganam” also critiques the arrogance of the stereotypical hero. “On Not Reading Science Fiction” introduces the collection.

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  • Le Guin, Ursula K. Four Ways to Forgiveness. New York: Harper Prism, 1995.

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    Award-winning collection of four interconnected novellas explores twin planets Werel and Yeowe, where colonization has created a dissolving system of ownership and slavery: “Betrayals” (1994), “Forgiveness Day” (1994), “A Man of the People” (1995), and “A Woman’s Liberation” (1995) examine effects of slavery, the meaning of freedom, and how individuals can overcome trauma and mistakes in judgment to become stronger, more effective individuals. Strong depictions of moral maturity. Includes notes.

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  • Le Guin, Ursula K. The Telling. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2000.

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    2000 Endeavor Award for best science fiction or fantasy book by a Pacific Northwest author. Chronologically follows Four Ways to Forgiveness (1995). Written in response to Chairman Mao’s campaign to destroy Taoism in China. Describes attempts to save a secret stash of sacred scrolls from a book-burning Monitor of Poetry. Focalizes a young diplomat’s healing from trauma of her partner’s violent death. Valorizes nutritional balance and acceptance of the unexplainable.

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  • Le Guin, Ursula K. The Birthday of the World and Other Stories. New York: HarperCollins, 2002.

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    Collection of controversial, award-winning stories that re-examine gender, sexuality, and marital arrangements: “Coming of Age in Karhide” (1995), “Unchosen Love” (1994), “Mountain Ways” (1996), “The Matter of Seggri” (1994), “Solitude” (1994), and “Old Music and the Slave Women” (1999), “The Birthday of the World” and “Paradises Lost” (2002). Stories transgress various cultural taboos to demonstrate ethical behavior in healthy homosexual and polyamorous relationships.

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  • Le Guin, Ursula K. The Word for World Is Forest. New York: Tor, 2010.

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    Originally published Harlan Ellison’s Again Dangerous Visions (1972) and later in 1976 in a separate hardcover version. 1973 Hugo Award winner. Written in anger in reaction to the Vietnam War, depicts the destruction of a preindustrial utopian world. Working title “Little Green Men.” Indicts neocolonial racist and sexist attitudes, explores the power of shared dreams.

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  • Le Guin, Ursula K. The Hainish Novels and Stories. Vol. 1. Edited by Brian Attebery. New York: Library of America, 2017a.

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    Part of a boxed set; contains a new introduction, Rocannon’s World, Planet of Exile, City of Illusions, The Left Hand of Darkness, The Dispossessed, and its prequel “The Day Before the Revolution.” Other stories include “Semley’s Necklace,” “Vaster than Empires and More Slow,” “Coming of Age in Karhide,” and two versions of “Winter’s King”: the 1969 version using male pronouns, the 1975 version revised using female. Extensive chronology and notes.

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  • Le Guin, Ursula K. The Hainish Novels and Stories. Vol. 2. Edited by Brian Attebery. New York: Library of America, 2017b.

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    Part of a boxed set; contains a new introduction, The Word for World Is Forest (1972), and The Telling (2000). Stories included were originally published in A Fisherman of the Inland Sea (1994), The Birthday of the World and Other Stories (2002), and Four Ways to Forgiveness (1995). Extensive chronology and notes.

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Interstitial SF

Working against traditional genre expectations, Le Guin transgresses and subverts boundaries via an ethnographic lens that accepts the occurrence of paranormal events. The Lathe of Heaven (1971) initially reflects magic realism typified by Jorge Luis Borges; however, traditional SF hypothesizes as-yet-undiscovered scientific causes for observed phenomena, and LOH achieves verisimilitude through a subtext of contemporary dream research and Einsteinian concepts regarding the relative nature of time. She grew up reading pulps like Amazing Stories, where alternate-timeline SF stories by writers such as Jack Williamson, C. L. Moore, and L. Sprague de Camp had been published since the late 30s. Furthermore, SF writers like Philip K. Dick readily blurred boundaries between dream and reality. In LOH, she speculates that dreams can alter past, present, and future. The Word for World Is Forest (1972) (see under Hainish Series Science Fiction) suggests that dreams alter reality via the archetypal unconscious. The Eye of the Heron (1978), though set on a distant planet, focalizes dystopian aspects of postcolonialism. “Pathways of Desire” (1979) hypothesizes that a fifteen-year-old’s imaginary sex-based Polynesian culture could be dreamt into being on a faraway planet (see Clarke 2010 under General Overviews). Later, she explores the mystical connection between quantum physics, desire, dreams, and alternate timelines in Hainish Series Science Fiction stories published in the 90s. Her greatest digression from traditional genre expectations occurs in Always Coming Home (1985). This future matrifocal utopia-in-progress valorizes a technologically cool Native American lifestyle. Her premise outlined in “A Non-Euclidean View of California as a Cold Place to Be” (1982) is that industrial progress is masculine or yang. Traditional objectively organized plot structures are also yang, while circularly structured “carrier bag” stories reflect subjective yin or feminine experience. ACH consciously interrupts the narrative by inserting various pieces of cultural ethnography. Erlich 2010 (General Overviews) suggests that ACH is a fictionalized retelling of her parents’ research: A. L. Kroeber’s monumental Handbook of the Indians of California and Theodora Kroeber’s The Inland Whale. During the writing process, Le Guin spent a year living as one of her Kesh, cementing the narrative with subjective experience. Wild Girls (2002) continues her The Birthday of the World and Other Stories (Hainish Series Science Fiction) exploration of marriage and gender, focusing on the commodification of women (see Lindow 2012 under General Overviews). WG has no obvious SF content, but the structure of a separatist culture divided separatist culture hints at her Hainish universe.

  • Le Guin, Ursula K. “Pathways of Desire.” In The Compass Rose. By Ursula K. Le Guin, 175–207. New York: Harper and Row, 1982.

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    Originally published in 1979. Novelette structured as an extraterrestrial first-contact expeditionary report that examines a sex-based, youth-oriented culture mysteriously lacking in cultural sophistication. Researchers begin to realize that tampering may have occurred. As in “Dancing to Ganam” (see under Hainish Series Science Fiction), Le Guin critiques the impulsive nature of the stereotypical handsome blond hero.

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  • Le Guin, Ursula K. The Lathe of Heaven. New York: Scribner, 2008.

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    Originally published in 1971. 1972 Locus Award. Stylistic homage to Philip K. Dick. Chilling moral fable connecting dreams with alternate universes and the relative nature of time. Haber, an unethical psychiatrist, tries to control the dreams of George Orr, an “effective dreamer” whose troubled dreams are able to change reality. Cult-classic, made-for-TV movies produced in 1980 and 2002.

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  • Le Guin, Ursula K. The Wild Girls. Oakland, CA: PM Press, 2011.

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    2003 Readers Awards from Locus and Asimov’s. Originally published in Asimov’s in 2002, “The Wild Girls” is a tragic ghost story about a kidnapped bride. Thematically fits with the experiments in gender and marriage collected in The Birthday of the World (Hainish Series Science Fiction). PM Press volume also includes poetry, two essays: “Staying Awake While We Read” and “The Conversation of the Modest,” as well as an interview of Le Guin by SF author Terry Bisson.

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  • Le Guin, Ursula K. The Eye of the Heron. New York: Tor, 2018.

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    Planetary romance first published in Millennial Women Anthology (1978) and republished separately in 1983. Set on the Earthlike planet of Victoria, its name suggesting romance and postcolonial discussion. Like Australia, Victoria was colonized by prisoners and political exiles, causing conflicting utopian and dystopian cultures. Third-person narrative focalizes Luz, a young woman who must choose how she lives.

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  • Le Guin, Ursula K. Always Coming Home. Edited by Brian Attebery. New York: Library of America, 2019.

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    Originally published in 1985 in a boxed set including cassette tape; courageous carrier bag experiment in women’s writing. Loosely structured combination of narrative, ethnography, poetry, recipes, and music. The story of the Kesh, a post-holocaust matriarchal culture living in a future California. Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize. New material includes previously unpublished chapters of Dangerous People, Kesh poetry, meditations, a guide to syntax. Illustrations by Margaret Chodos-Irvine, notes, and maps.

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Earthsea Series Fantasy

Le Guin’s fantasy is thematically connected to her science fiction. Both are speculative in their examination of “what if” scenarios. Both are informed by Taoist revisioning. Both privilege protagonists-of-color. In the scrupulously envisioned world of Earthsea, dragons are no less plausible than faster-than-light space ships. As Clute 1997 (see under Reference Books and Encyclopedias) suggests, wizardly education is “so rigorous in its principles as to be easily understood as a form of alternate science” (p. 704). To become a Master Wizard is essentially the fantastic equivalent of a Ph.D. The Earthsea Series consists of two trilogies and a number of short stories. The first trilogy, A Wizard of Earthsea, The Tombs of Atuan, and The Farthest Shore, marketed YA, follows the life of Ged as he becomes the greatest wizard in Earthsea. Throughout these books, there are no wars, and magic always comes with a price. The ending of FS can be read as a subversion of the hero’s triumphant return as detailed in Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949). Worn-out and magicless, Ged simply retires. Twenty years pass before Le Guin returns to Earthsea, this time to look at women’s magic. The three books that follow—Tehanu (1990), Tales from Earthsea (2001), and The Other Wind (2001)—are adult books that continue her examination of abuse, trauma, and recovery as well as the nature of power and the power of mature love. Tehanu, in particular, is not an easy book, but in OW, the personal healing envisioned for Therru, a severely abused and disfigured child, also provides a communal way to heal damage originally done to the metaphysical fabric of Earthsea by wizards attempting to outwit death by stealing an afterlife from the dragons. Thus, the structure of mythopoeic fantasy is reframed by moving magic away from individual domination of elementary forces and into the realm of community action. The series as a whole redefines the nature of power, making it accessible to women as well as the aged, disabled, and disfigured. Both trilogies and four short stories are contained in a single omnibus edition with award-winning cover and interior art by Charles Vess.

  • Le Guin, Ursula K. The Farthest Shore. New York: HMH Books for Young Readers, 2012a.

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    First published in 1972; National Book Award for Children’s Books. Describes how Archmage Ged harrows the Dry Land of Death to correct imbalances caused by an evil wizard’s desire for immortality. Follows the evolving viewpoint of Arren, a young king. Highlights the traumatic nature of conflict, subverting the tradition of all-powerful wizards who do not seem to suffer from their magical efforts.

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  • Le Guin, Ursula K. The Other Wind. New York: HMH Books for Young Readers, 2012b.

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    Originally published in 2001; World Fantasy Award. Well-constructed novel; solves the problem of Therru, the deeply damaged child adopted by Tenar. Provides nonviolent community action counteracting the wizardly hubris that destroyed the balance of the circle of life in Earthsea.

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  • Le Guin, Ursula K. Tales from Earthsea. New York: HMH Books for Young Readers, 2012c.

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    Originally published in 2001, this Locus Award–winning collection includes: “The Finder,” a prequel, “The Bones of the Earth,” a tale about wizardly humility; “On the High Marsh,” “Dragonfly,” a young woman’s difficult path to becoming a wizard; “Darkrose and Diamond,” a love story about alternatives; and “A Description of Earthsea.”

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  • Le Guin, Ursula K. Tehanu. New York: HMH Books for Young Readers, 2012d.

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    Originally published in 1990; Nebula Award–winning feminist revisioning of Earthsea. Examines the quiet center of interconnected women’s magic that holds Earthsea together despite prejudice that deems it weak and wicked. True wickedness, such as the physical and sexual abuse of children and out-of-control wizardly power, often remains unpunished. Tenar and Ged find true love but are incapable of saving themselves from powerful evil until help arrives from an unexpected direction.

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  • Le Guin, Ursula K. The Tombs of Atuan. New York: HMH Books for Young Readers, 2012e.

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    Originally published in 1971; initial exploration of girl power. Received a 1972 Newbery Honor Medal for its contribution to children’s literature. Tells the story of Tenar, a girl who is given in service to ancient dark powers, the Nameless Ones. She lives in the shadowy, labyrinthine Tombs until Ged comes to steal the most treasured ring of Erreth-Akbe. Emphasizes the educational power of stories.

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  • Le Guin, Ursula K. A Wizard of Earthsea. New York: HMH Books for Young Readers, 2012f.

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    Originally published in 1968; award-winning first fantasy novel, marketed as a young adult novel, follows the moral development of Sparrowhawk as he learns to be a wizard and discovers Ged, his true name. Emphasis on his struggle with his own inner darkness. Includes a copy of the map Le Guin drew before she started writing.

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  • Le Guin, Ursula K. The Books of Earthsea: The Complete Illustrated Edition. Illustrated by Charles Vess. New York: Saga Press, 2018.

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    Contains the six books of the Earthsea Series plus four stories: “The Word of Unbinding” (1964), “The Rule of Names” (1964), “The Daughter of Odren” (2014), and “Firelight” (2018). Also includes her important essay “Earthsea Revisioned.” The series as a whole represents a remarkable evolution regarding the nature and function of personal heroism. Cover and interior art, beautifully envisioned, but book is somewhat cumbersome to hold.

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Western Shore YA Fantasy

In Le Guin’s final trilogy, “The Annals of the Western Shore”—Gifts (2004), Voices (2006), and Powers (2007)—young protagonists struggle to control their developing magical gifts. Within lawless, anti-intellectual, book-burning cultures, Le Guin revisions Story as the most powerful magic. The trilogy evaluates early anarchist ideals and 17th- and 18th-century theories of childrearing and education by philosophers such as Locke and Rousseau, further exploring the nature of freedom and enslavement (see Hainish Series Science Fiction). This critically lauded and engaging young adult series provides valuable insight into Le Guin’s conclusions regarding the competing momentums toward utopia and dystopia but overall is not as compelling for adults as earlier work.

  • Le Guin, Ursula K. Gifts. New York: Harcourt, 2004.

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    First book in Le Guin’s YA Western Shore trilogy. Orrec, a young man growing up in an illiterate, lawless culture, allows himself to be blindfolded for three years, thinking his eyes have power to kill Eventually his true gift manifests as an eidetic memory for stories and for storytelling, and he leaves to see the world with his best friend Gry. As with Earthsea, Gifts reflects Jungian psychology.

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  • Le Guin, Ursula K. Voices. New York: Harcourt, 2006.

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    Second book in the Western Shore trilogy, tells the story of Memer, a young woman growing up in a ransacked city, protecting the last books of a once-great university. Her gift is to interpret the voices of an Oracle, but she lacks the confidence to use it until she is mentored by Orrec and Gry.

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  • Le Guin, Ursula K. Powers. New York: Harcourt, 2007.

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    Nebula Award–winning last book of the Western Shore trilogy. Gavir, an educated house slave, accepts his place until his older sister is raped and murdered by his owner’s bastard son. When he escapes, he lives for a time in a bandit enclave that reflects failed 18th-century anarchist ideals. Ending unites the protagonists of all three books, providing hope and more closure than Le Guin allows in her earlier work.

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Other Fantasy

Recurring motifs that unify Le Guin’s fantastic fiction throughout her career include the futility of war, communication through time, the journey into the unknown, rescuing the damaged child, the marriage of opposites, and the recreation of family/community. Her first genre sale, “April in Paris (The Wind’s Twelve Quarters, New York: Harper & Row, 1975: pp. 20–32)”, describes how a lonely alchemist is able to create family for himself by rounding up sympathetic individuals from various timelines. (The connection between time and communication through dreams is later explored science fictionally in The Lathe of Heaven [1971], The Word for World Is Forest [1972], and “Pathways of Desire” [1979) [see under Interstitial SF]). Her most anthologized fable, “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” (1973), a symbolic critique of First World culture (read Salem O. backwards), asks but does not answer whether it is right for the happiness of a society to be based on the suffering of one child. Young people leave the comfort of Omelas because they cannot bear that their happiness is based on one child’s suffering. The journey into the unknown, usually on foot, recurs throughout her fiction, especially where there are young adult protagonists as in her Earthsea Series Fantasy, her Western Shore YA Fantasy trilogy, The Eye of the Heron (1978), and The Beginning Place (1980) (see under Young Adult Literature). Rescuing the damaged child becomes one of her most powerful organizing principles in later work, appearing in Buffalo Gals and Other Animal Presences (1987), Tehanu (see under Earthsea Series Fantasy), the Catwings series (see under Picture Books), and Powers (see under Western Shore YA Fantasy). In “Buffalo Gals,” a girl injured in a plane crash is rescued by Coyote and enters a dream world of Native American mythology where time is flexible. Lavinia (2008), her last adult novel, is based on the last six books of Vergil’s Aeneid, and valorizes the archetypal unconscious where all times become one. Thematically, Lavinia revisits the “April in Paris (The Wind’s Twelve Quarters, New York: Harper & Row, 1975: pp. 20–32)” time travel motif when Lavinia communicates with the poet Vergil hundreds of years in her future. Like her first novel Rocannon’s World (1966) (see under Hainish Series Science Fiction), Lavinia also emphasizes how human suffering in war overbalances any personal or political gain.

  • Le Guin, Ursula K. Buffalo Gals and Other Animal Presences. By Ursula K. Le Guin, 17–51. New York: Penguin ROC, 1990.

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    1988 Hugo and World Fantasy Award–winning novelette. A little girl is rescued from a plane crash by the nurturing but tough-talking mythological trickster Coyote, who is in female form. Coyote takes the injured child to the village of the animals, or “Old People,” who continue their own way of life in “dreamtime” alongside humans, who are called the “New People.” The child develops the ability to see both worlds.

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  • Le Guin, Ursula K. “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas.” In The Wind’s Twelve Quarters. 224–231, New York: Harper & Row, 1975.

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    1974 Hugo and Locus Award–winning fable has become Le Guin’s most anthologized story. Originally published in New Dimensions 3 in 1973. Depicts a city where the happiness of the citizens is based on the suffering of one child. Informed by Jung’s scapegoat psychomyth, William James, and Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov. Collection includes Le Guin’s introduction which cites James and explains her inspiration for writing this story.

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  • Le Guin, Ursula K. Lavinia. New York: Harcourt, 2008.

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    2009 Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel. Describes the life and moral education of Lavinia, mentioned in The Aeneid as a king’s marriageable daughter. Lavinia comes alive through her reconsideration of contemporary values and her ability to channel the future poet Vergil. When she chooses Aeneas as her husband, she unintentionally starts a war. Le Guin’s “Afterword” admires Vergil’s musical use of language and describes Lavinia as “a love offering.”

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Alternate History: Orsinia and Beyond

The nature of Le Guin’s thought experiments is thematic re-visitation. In stories originating in the 50s, Le Guin explores the political evolution of Orsinia, an imaginary Central European country. Orsinia is a very personal place for her: Orso is a variant spelling of Ursu, which means bear. In her introduction to The Unreal and the Real: Selected Short Stories of Ursula K. Le Guin. Vol. 1, Where on Earth (2012) (see under Selected Short Stories and Collections), she remarks that “reality is often best represented slantwise, backwards.” LOA’s The Complete Orsinia collects the entire series, including her first published short story, “An die Musik” (1961), and her problematic novel Malafrena, which was begun in 1952 but not published until 1979. (For more on Malafrena, see Cadden 2005 and Clarke 2010 under General Overviews. For how this novel provides a cognitive setting for further experimental work regarding anarchy, gender, and relationship, see Bitner 1978 under Separate Journal Articles.) “Brothers and Sisters” (1976) is an exploration of values involved in marriage. Set in 1962, “A Week in the Country” (1976) balances the light of human connection with the darkness of totalitarian inhumanity, “The Diary of the Rose” (1976) is a chilling SF horror novelette not part of the Orsinian Series that thematically connects through names and autocratic setting. This dark tale emphasizes the danger of being an intellectual in an authoritarian political system. Here, developing brain-mapping science is used to identify what George Orwell (1949) coined “thoughtcrimes” in 1984. Written during the Cold War, “The Diary of the Rose” was awarded a Nebula from the Science Fiction Writers of America, which she then refused because Polish novelist Stanislaw Lem had been stripped of his SFWA honorary membership for living behind the Iron Curtain (see No Time to Spare under Le Guin’s Nonfiction, pp. 60–61). “Unlocking the Air and Other Stories” (1990), the last of the series, reflects the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests through the symbolic importance of keys.

  • Le Guin, Ursula K. “The Diary of the Rose.” In Where on Earth. By Ursula K. Le Guin, 83–106. Easthampton, MA: Small Beer Press, 2014.

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    First published in 1976, then collected in The Compass Rose (1982). A young doctor’s case notes regarding “mentally ill” political prisoner. SF/psychological horror about the dehumanizing nature of totalitarianism and the hierarchical power structures that redefine reality and sanity for their own purposes. Thematically reflects The Lathe of Heaven (1971) and The Dispossessed (1974).

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  • Le Guin, Ursula K. The Complete Orsinia. Edited by Brian Attebery. New York: Library of America, 2016.

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    Beautifully packaged complete series of Orsinian stories. Visits imaginary Central European country from the 12th century to 1989. Includes “Folksong from the Montayna Province” (1959), her first publication; Malafrena, a novel published in 1979; and related stories, eleven originally collected in Orsinian Tales (1976), plus “Two Delays on the Northern Line” (1979) and “Unlocking the Air” (1990). Although less known, these stories reflect later explorations of authoritarianism and revolution.

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Selected Short Stories and Collections

Le Guin’s short story collections provide important insight into her evolving thought. The Wind’s Twelve Quarters (1975), her first collection, provides groundbreaking SF and fantasy short stories that inspire further award-winning work. The collection itself reflects change in her thinking on gender in that she shifts pronouns in her “Winter’s King” (1969) from male to female to better depict Gethenian androgyny, a courageous early foray into postmodernism. Le Guin’s second collection, The Compass Rose (1982), organizes stories based on compass points, beginning with “The Author of the Acacia Seeds,” a “therolinguistic”study of ant poetry, and concluding with “Sur,” the secret history of group of practical, well-organized South American women who reach the South Pole in 1910 before any men. Thematically, the collection succeeds in writing against genre expectations, specifically ignoring monomythic plots where conflict is resolved in a climax, and protagonists return to community applause. Buffalo Gals and Other Animal Presences (1990) continues her experimentation with point of view, collecting short stories and poetry that focalize animal and vegetable viewpoints and cautionary tales that warn of hubristic attempts to ignore ecological balance or squander natural resources. The animal Other is particularly demonstrated in “May’s Lion,” a narrative first told realistically and then retold through the perspective of her Kesh in Always Coming Home (see under Interstitial SF). Searoad (1991) visits Klatsand, an imaginary oceanside village in Oregon where limited omniscient narration reveals individuals aren’t always what they seem, eventually concluding with a defiant retelling of the Persephone myth. Changing Planes (2003) returns to Le Guin’s ongoing examination of flight, satirizing the miseries of modern air travel while also exploring the social perils of adolescents who grow wings during puberty, reflecting a history of social punishments similar to religious heretics, witches, and homosexuals. Intentionally reminiscent of Gulliver’s Travels, “The Islands of the Immortals” reconsiders Swift’s Laputa, and revisits the Earthsea Series Fantasy conclusion that immortality destroys creativity, although it adds an interesting twist. In The Unreal and the Real: Selected Stories of Ursula K. Le Guin, Le Guin reshuffles earlier stories into two new collections. For her later publications, she favors small independent presses she trusts to value art and quality over formulaic commodified fiction.

  • Le Guin, Ursula K. The Wind’s Twelve Quarters. New York: Harper and Row, 1975.

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    Seventeen powerful short stories published 1962–1974, including “April in Paris (The Wind’s Twelve Quarters, New York: Harper & Row, 1975: pp. 20–32),” her first genre sale; “Semley’s Necklace,” (originally “The Dowry of the Angyar”); and “Nine Lives,” a hard SF unconventional love story first published in Playboy. “The Word of Unbinding” and “The Rule of Names” are Earthsea Series Fantasy stories both published in Fantastic in 1964. “The Day Before the Revolution,” is a prequel to The Dispossessed (see Hainish Series Science Fiction).

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  • Le Guin, Ursula K. The Compass Rose. New York: Harper and Row, 1982a.

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    1984 Locus Award for best short story collection. A mix of twenty SF, fantasy, and mainstream stories published 1974–1982. Of particular note are “The Author of the Acacia Seeds,” ‘Schrödinger’s Cat,” “The Diary of the Rose” “Pathways of Desire,” and “Sur.” “Two Delays on the Northern Line” is set in Orsinia. “The New Atlantis” is a novelette later republished in The Norton Book of Science Fiction (see Editing and Translation).

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  • Le Guin, Ursula K. “Sur.” In The Compass Rose. By Ursula K. Le Guin, 253–271. New York: Harper and Row, 1982b.

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    Gently subversive secret history about a well-organized and practical group of South American women who reach the South Pole before any male explorers. Reflects Le Guin’s exploration of female heroism.

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  • Le Guin, Ursula K. Buffalo Gals and Other Animal Presences. New York: Penguin, 1990.

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    Collection of short stories and poetry originally published between 1971 and 1987. Reflects consideration of the relationship between humans, animals, and the natural world. Highlights the 1988 Hugo Award–winning novelette “Buffalo Gals, Won’t You Come Out Tonight.” Includes “May’s Lion,” a prequel to Always Coming Home, and “The Direction of the Road,” a surreal tale from the viewpoint of a tree. Reprints thematically related stories from earlier collections.

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  • Le Guin, Ursula K. Unlocking the Air and Other Stories. New York: Harper Perennial, 1997.

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    One of three finalists for the 1997 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Eighteen short stories—fairy tale, fable, and magic realist speculations—written from the early 80s to the mid-90s reveal the strangeness that can be found in ordinary life. Provides a sliding scale of micro and macro politics from the interpersonal to the revolutionary. Concludes with “The Poacher,” a revisioning of Sleeping Beauty.

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  • Le Guin, Ursula K. Changing Planes. Illustrated by Eric Beddows. New York: Harcourt, 2003.

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    Illustrated volume of sixteen ironic short stories published 1998–2002. Written as an ethnography of parallel universes. Airports’ “interval between planes” achieves double meaning for time travel portals between alternate planes of being. Rises beyond the miseries of modern air travel to offer incisive postmodern cultural criticism. “The Fliers of Gy,” for instance, critiques otherizing of difference and sacrificial scapegoating.

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  • Le Guin, Ursula K. Searoad: Chronicles of Klatsand. New York: Harper Collins, 1991.

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    Available is a number of paper and hardback editions including Shambala 2004, twelve mainstream stories, published 1987–1991, explore point of view via citizens of the imaginary town of Klatsand, Oregon. Magic realism merges with postmodernism and the mythopoetic. The last novelette, “Hernes,” relates four generations of daughters who play a key part in creating the community. Includes a retelling of the Persephone myth and a passionate condemnation of the way women become collateral damage in wars and totalitarian regimes.

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  • Le Guin, Ursula K. The Unreal and the Real: Selected Short Stories of Ursula K. Le Guin. Vol. 1, Where on Earth. Easthampton, MA: Small Beer Press, 2012a.

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    Eighteen stories selected from earlier collections. “May’s Lion” inspires the cover picture. Includes three stories from her Searoad collection and her Hugo Award–winning novella “Buffalo Gals, Won’t You Come Out Tonight.” “Ether, Or” describes a free range town that moves on its own. Three Orsinian tales explore the relationship between utopia and dystopia. Also includes the thematically related “The Diary of the Rose,” for which Le Guin refused the Nebula.

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  • Le Guin, Ursula K. The Unreal and the Real: Selected Short Stories of Ursula K. Le Guin. Vol. 2, Outer Space, Inner Lands. Easthampton, MA: Small Beer Press, 2012b.

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    Twenty short stories from earlier collections, some of them science fiction, others not. Includes a new introduction by Le Guin.

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Young Adult Literature

Le Guin’s first three YA novels—A Wizard of Earthsea (1968), The Tombs of Atuan (1970), and The Farthest Shore (1972) (see under Earthsea Series Fantasy)—provide few clues regarding healthy sexual relationships. The closest to courtship occurs in conversation at the end of FS, when Ged and Tenar journey back to Gont. They hold hands, but he then takes her to his teacher Ogion, recognizing that this wise but deeply traumatized young woman needs more help than he is able to provide. However, Le Guin’s next two YA novels, Very Far Away from Anywhere Else (1976) and The Beginning Place (1980), deal specifically with first love. In both, protagonists suffer from social insecurity despite intelligence and talents. Although Owen and Natalie in VF decide not to have sex because it is “no good” without the time to commit, they do develop a deep and abiding friendship: “a very good best.” In BP, Hugh and Irene become lovers, but to do so they must enter a dreamlike magical world and confront archetypal fears. Cadden 2005 (see under General Overviews) writes that “the bildungsroman typically is not about heroism as much as it is about survival, though we might argue that the successful quest for identity is the most heroic thing we ever do” (p. 119). In Beginning Place, Le Guin embodies the shadow, the dark side of the self, as a monster/dragon that must be slain. Part of this monstrosity involves potential for unhealthy adult sexuality, a future many adolescents fear but do not want to see. The young women have faced traumatizing dangers. In Very Far, Natalie has fought off a sexually aggressive boyfriend, and in Beginning Place, Irene must avoid her stepfather’s inappropriate advances. When Hugh kills the dragon with a sword, Irene must struggle to free him from under its dead body. In these early novels, Le Guin still struggles with the limits of believable female heroism, but these young women have agency. In worlds where mothers tend to make decisions indirectly, her young female protagonists contribute equally and substantially in their developing relationships (see Clarke 2010 under General Overviews).

  • Le Guin, Ursula K. Very Far Away from Anywhere Else. New York: HMH Books for Young Readers, 2004.

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    Originally published in 1976; critically well-regarded mainstream YA bildungsroman. First-person narrative; Owen, the focalizer, is initially a social outsider until he meets Natalie, a musician who believes she will one day be a composer. Believable relationships. Handles adolescent social anxiety realistically. Owen’s life parallels Le Guin’s in that he has created Thorn, an imaginary country with topographical maps, ecology, and a socialist political history.

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  • Le Guin, Ursula K. The Beginning Place. New York: Tor Teen, 2005.

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    Originally published in 1980; YA portal coming-of-age fantasy romance. Seeking refuge from harsh realities of growing up, Hugh and Irene meet in the twilight world of Tembreabrezi and fall in love until their happiness is threatened by a monster. Hugh has a neurotic mother, Irene, and a stepfather who attempts to molest her. Third-person limited narrative uses alternate chapters to provide starkly different male and female perspectives (see Cadden under General Overviews). Describes first sex sensitively.

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Picture Books

Le Guin’s picture books reflect considerable understanding of child development, an abiding egalitarian agenda, emphasis on vulnerable heroes, nonbinary thinking, diverse relationships, and nontraditional families. Some, like Cobbler’s Rune (1982) and Fire and Stone (1989), are out of print. Acceptance of otherness is demonstrated throughout. Engaging illustrations support and enrich her stories, many involving winged or flying creatures which appear throughout her work. The Catwings series is a set of four illustrated chapter books (1988–1999) that can be used biblio-therapeutically with elementary students. Written around the time of Tehanu (1990) (see under Earthsea Series Fantasy), these stories introduce childhood trauma in a way that is accessible and nonthreatening to children, providing a way to fly away, if temporarily. The flight of transformation recurs throughout her fiction. All her picture books except A Visit from Dr. Katz use a limited omniscient narration to provide insight into her animal characters. Animals speak with each other but not with humans. Nevertheless, animals can communicate with empathic humans, as depicted in the Catwings series as well as Tom Mouse (2002). (See Cadden under General Overviews for more on the narratology of these books.) Sophisticated ideas and adept use of humor make these books engaging for adults as well as children. Leese Webster could be required reading in art classes. (For more on the creative process, see The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia (See under Hainish Series Science Fiction), Steering the Craft under Le Guin’s Nonfiction, and Ursula K. Le Guin: Conversations on Writing under Interviews, Reflections, Biography, and Film.) Fish Soup (1992) provides much for discussion regarding gender biases and identity. A Ride on the Red Mare’s Back (1992) is a literary retelling of the changeling tale. Tom Mouse champions the nontraditional heroism of an older woman-of-color regarding her behind-the-scenes animal rights activism. (For more on the animal Other, see Cheek by Jowl under Le Guin’s Nonfiction).

  • Le Guin, Ursula K. Solomon Leviathan’s Nine Hundred and Thirty-First Trip around the World. Illustrated by Alicia Austin. New York: Philomel Books, 1988b.

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    Engagingly illustrated, humorous animal tale for older children and adults. Le Guin creates a peaceable kingdom a “long way from the coast of Kansas” where a giraffe and a boa constrictor, both philosophers, decide to take a boat trip together to find the horizon. They are swallowed and befriended by Solomon Leviathan, a whale, and the three continue their adventures. Demonstrates the Taoist concept of doing by not doing.

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  • Le Guin, Ursula K. A Visit from Dr. Katz. Illustrated by Ann Barrow. New York: Atheneum, 1988a.

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    In this realistic picture book for early elementary-aged children and younger, Marianne is sick in bed and receives medical attention from her two cats who provide “the stomach cure” and “the toe cure.” Le Guin focuses on the healing power of pets. Animal healing is a theme explored elsewhere in Le Guin’s fiction, particularly Buffalo Gals and Other Animal Presences (1987).

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  • Le Guin, Ursula K. Fish Soup. Illustrated by Patrick Wynne. New York: Atheneum, 1992a.

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    In this engaging exploration of gender and nontraditional families, mice can fly. A “Thinking Man” and a “Writing Woman” are friends living a short distance apart. When the two imagine having children, a boy and girl appear, forcing them to face their unconscious attitudes about gender. (For deeper exploration of blended families and the power of imagination, see Le Guin’s Hainish Series Science Fiction, particularly “The Shobies’ Story” [1990].)

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  • Le Guin, Ursula K. Leese Webster. Illustrated by James Brunsman. New York: Atheneum, 1979.

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    Le Guin’s first picture book explores artistic development through practice, technical experimentation, appreciation of excellence, and innovation. A small spider living in a temporarily uninhabited castle begins to copy carpet patterns in her web designs. Reflecting Le Guin’s active feminism, the implication is that someone small, female, and hungry can create great art that is also functional. Spider webs are also symbolic in the Earthsea Series Fantasy.

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  • Le Guin, Ursula K. A Ride on the Red Mare’s Back. Illustrated by Julie Downing. New York: Orchard Books, 1992c.

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    A girl’s development of moral agency in the face of grave danger. Continues Le Guin’s celebration of girl empowerment. When a small boy is kidnapped by trolls, his sister goes out to reclaim him. Representing the power of imagination, her red toy horse leads her forward, and when asked for help, it transforms, becoming real. Rescuing her brother becomes complicated because at first he does not wish to be rescued.

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  • Le Guin, Ursula K. Tom Mouse. Illustrated by Julie Downing. Brookfield, CT: Roaring Brook Press, 2002.

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    Written for early elementary-aged children. Tom Mouse hops a train seeking adventure and is befriended by a rather flamboyant older woman-of-color. Aptly named Ms. Powers, she represents the “power” to be an independent single woman with the freedom to travel and the open-mindedness to advocate for animal rights. Tom’s joyful moon dance celebrates newfound friendship. Dance is a thematic thread that runs throughout Le Guin’s writing.

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  • Le Guin, Ursula K. Catwings. Illustrated by S. D. Schindler. New York: Orchard Books, 2003a.

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    Originally published in 1988; Mrs. Jane Tabby gives birth to four winged kittens possibly because their father was a “fly by night.” Although Jane is a good mother, she encourages her kittens to leave their dangerous inner city neighborhood, but the country is not as safe as they hoped it to be. Catwings introduces issues such as the fear of leaving home and the difference between safe and unsafe touch.

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  • Le Guin, Ursula K. Catwings Return. Illustrated by S. D. Schindler. New York: Orchard Books, 2003b.

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    Originally published in 1989. Wishing to visit their mother, two winged kittens leave their new country home to return to the city, where they rescue their little sister Jane from a building on the verge of being demolished. Jane has been deeply traumatized by too-early separation, as well as by the hunger, thirst, and terror of her time in the building. Introduces language regression as a traumatic effect.

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  • Le Guin, Ursula K. Jane on Her Own. Illustrated by S. D. Schindler. New York: Orchard Books, 2003c.

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    Originally published in 1999. Longing for adventure, the winged kitten Jane flies to the city on her own. When she flies through a window, a man offers her food, then captures and exploits her special ability until she resolves to escape. Introduces the danger of taking food from strangers and the connection between identity and freedom. Reflects Le Guin’s ongoing theme of true freedom remaining in community with others.

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  • Le Guin, Ursula K. Wonderful Alexander and the Catwings. Illustrated by S. D. Schindler. New York: Scholastic, 2003d.

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    Originally published in 1994. After being rescued from a tree by little Jane, Alexander, a wingless kitten, decides to make good on a promise to do wonderful things by helping Jane learn to talk again. When Alexander intuitively understands Jane’s trauma and gently challenges her to tell him what frightened her, she breaks through her traumatic barrier. Introduces post-traumatic stress disorder in a way that is accessible to children.

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Poetry Collections

Le Guin’s poetry may be the most intimate expression of her daily experience. Early poetry collections are no longer in publication, but Finding My Elegy provides a sampling of her early work. More lyrical than narrative, her early poems are often distanced through fictional or mythological settings and use of third person. This distancing evolves throughout the 70s and 80s as she explores “the mother tongue” and the subjectivity of women’s writing until her final collection, So Far, So Good (2018), which is straightforward in its use of first person. Her first chapbook, Wild Angels (1975), written 1960–1975, reflects frustration that her next novel was slow in coming (see Lindow 2012 under General Overviews). Her second collection, Hard Words (1981) collects fifty-two poems written 1975–1980, including “The Well of Baln,” which was awarded the Science Fiction Poetry Association’s 1981 Rhysling for best long poem. This volume reflects an angry emergent feminism, sometimes informed by Hindu mythology’s Shiva, the Lord of the Dance. Dance is a recurring motif throughout her work. Wild Oats and Fireweed (1988) collects poems written 1980–1987, particularly focusing on the Goddess/Mountain connection as she views the eruption of Mount St. Helens from her home in Portland. Going Out with Peacocks, collecting poems written 1988–1994, continues her exploration of women’s experience, vowing to “sing shrill till the fire’s dead.” “Fragments from Women’s Writing” imagines the content of secret Chinese women’s writing. Blue Moon over Thurman Street (1993) illustrates Le Guin’s words with Roger Dorland’s photographs of Northwest Portland. In Sixty Odd (1999), “old age” is a “new country.” Incredible Good Fortune (2006) focuses on rhymed poetry and language play, exploring folklore such as “Little Red Riding Hood.” Finding My Elegy (2012) selects poems from all the early collections plus new poems written 2006–2010. The later work is important because she is not publishing fiction, an issue she describes in “The Merchant of Words”: “Few ships go out now, few come back, and those/are empty, dancing on the waves.” Late in the Day (2014) focalizes everyday items such as pots and spoons. In So Far, So Good (2018), her final collection, she struggles with extreme old age, has lost “The Food” of “Rage” but still finds meaning: “All earth’s dust/has been life, held soul, is holy.”

  • Le Guin, Ursula K. Blue Moon over Thurman Street. Roger Dorland, photographer. Portland, OR: New Sage Press, 1993.

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    Poems, some hand-written, and photographs taken 1985–1992 recreate a walk up Thurman Street in Portland, Oregon, beginning with docks, tracks, and warehouses and ending on a hill with elegant old homes. Le Guin’s poetic responses to Dorland’s photographs often reflect Taoist and Hindu philosophy. Extensive end notes.

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  • Le Guin, Ursula K. Finding My Elegy: New and Selected Poems. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012.

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    Retrospective collection of poems chosen from earlier collections plus new poems, highlighting “Life Sciences.” A section called “Philosophy and Theology” describes the “Borderlands” of life and death, recognizing the self as soul that will “Soon enough . . . shine in star and sleep in stone.” Concluding long poem describes world religions fading to rubble while “the Earth goes on her changing circling way/dancing her dance of turning and returning.”

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  • Le Guin, Ursula K. Late in the Day: Poems 2010–2014. Oakland, CA: PM Press, 2014.

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    Fifty-one primarily short, primarily imagist poems that demonstrate reverence for all things, exploring rhyme, form and function, and the subjectivity of everyday objects and occurrences. Includes “Foreword and “Afterword” essays and “Freedom,” her National Book Foundation Distinguished Contribution Medal acceptance speech, given 20 November 2014.

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  • Le Guin, Ursula K. So Far, So Good. Port Townsend, WA: Copper Canyon Press, 2018.

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    Finished weeks before her death, collection of sixty-six well-crafted poems focuses on cats, birds, weather, and aging which “implodes to a black hole.” A section on “Elegies” includes a poem to her mother, “Theodora.” These late-in-life poems seem to suggest a softening in her anger regarding conventional religion, celebrating souls of all living creatures. “Desire and Fear” describes “A willingness to die.” The final poem concludes “the sea becomes sleep.”

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Editing and Translation

Le Guin identified primarily as a writer who also taught, edited, and translated. Her most significant editorial work is The Norton Book of Science Fiction (1993). In coordination with Brian Attebery and Karen Joy Fowler, Le Guin chose less-known stories that would represent the genre to college literature classes. The stories, published between 1960 and 1990, represent New Wave SF, which departs from pulp-era SF in significant literary ways, stressing character development and exemplifying awareness of genre history and tropes. Le Guin’s “Introduction” explains that these stories are informed more by social criticism than by military action in outer space, extrapolating change based on human or soft sciences such as anthropology and psychology as well as the harder sciences such as math and physics. The Twins, the Dream: Two Voices (1996) is poetry translation, created in collaboration with Argentinian poet Diana Bellessi. Le Guin had previously translated in French and Italian, but late in life attempted Spanish, corresponding with Bellessi regarding her English translations of Bellessi’s Cruising the Equator (1981). Correspondence eventually resulted in a book of side-by-side poetry and translation that includes “Silk Days,” Bellessi’s Spanish translations of selected poems from Le Guin’s earlier collections. Le Guin’s most significant work of translation is her poetic rendering of Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching, completed with J. P. Seaton, a professor of Chinese. Its significance is in its accessibility for contemporary readers as well as in its provision of an essential moral and symbolic roadmap for Le Guin’s lifelong writing.

  • Lao Tzu. Tao Te Ching: A Book about the Way and the Power of the Way. New English version by Ursula K. Le Guin and J. P. Seaton. Boston: Shambhala, 1998.

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    Le Guin’s poetic rendering of Lao Tzu’s 2,500-year-old Tao Te Ching. Written with translation help from J. P. Seaton, professor of Chinese at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Includes extensive notes. Her “Introduction” explains that as a child, she read her father’s 1898 Paul Carus edition, and although it was deeply influential, she was dissatisfied with some of Carus’s wording.

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  • Le Guin, Ursula K. “Introduction.” In The Norton Book of Science Fiction. Edited by Ursula K. Le Guin and Brian Attebery, 15–42. New York: Norton, 1997.

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    Originally published in 1993 in a volume intended for university-level literature classes. Le Guin introduces science fiction, differentiating between “hard” and “soft” SF, briefly mentioning its history, then explaining SF through various critical points of view including Attebery, Algirdas Budrys, S. R. Delany, Damon Knight, Karl Kroeber, and Gary K. Wolfe. The sixty-seven stories chosen step away from formulaic fiction to speculate on “what if” scenarios where human nature is also explored.

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  • Le Guin, Ursula K., and Diana Bellessi. The Twins, the Dream: Two Voices. Houston, TX: Arte Publico Press, 1996.

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    Le Guin and Argentinian poet Diana Bellessi translate each other, creating a book via correspondence. Le Guin translates Bellessi’s 1981 collection Cruising the Equator. Bellessi selects poems from Le Guin’s earlier collections. Poems and translations are presented side by side. Translations have been criticized as inexpert but there is an engaging comradery and a shared political sensibility.

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Interviews, Reflections, Biography, and Film

Inspired by early genre magazines, Le Guin began writing speculative fiction as a child and got her first rejection from Amazing Stories when she was ten or eleven. Ursula K. Le Guin Official Website includes a brief biography and responses to frequently asked questions, although more comprehensive biographical information can be found under General Overviews as well as in speeches published in her critical collections (see under Le Guin’s Nonfiction). Particularly valuable are “A Citizen of Mondath” in The Language of the Night, “Indian Uncles” in The Wave in the Mind: Talks and Essays on the Writer, the Reader, and the Imagination, and “Living in a Work of Art” in Words Are My Matter. Julie Phillips, Le Guin’s authorized biographer, provides biographical insight in Fowler and Notkin 2010 and in an informal obituary in Phillips 2018. Phillips takes a warm and engaging subjective approach to Le Guin’s life. Le Guin specifically stipulated that her biography not be published until after her death. Arwen Curry’s 2018 authorized documentary, Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin, photographically follows her life and development as a writer, includes voiceover commentary by Le Guin and others, and provides animated segments of her fiction and film segments of Le Guin at home in Oregon. Although numerous interviews with Le Guin can be found online and in print, the website includes a series of recorded interviews that can be accessed at online. Freedman 2008, White 1994, McCaffery and Gregory 2008, and McCaffery 1990 offer clear insight into her writing process. Her last book-length interview, in Ursula K. Le Guin: Conversations on Writing, is illuminating regarding the writing that mattered to her late in her life.

  • Curry, Arwen. Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin. 2018.

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    Carefully researched documentary explores Le Guin’s life and legacy. Funded by grants and Kickstarter funding, and now part of the PBS American Masters Series, the film was produced with her participation over a decade. Photographs, film clips, animation, and narration follow her career, exploring her real and fantastic worlds. Major focus relates her self-discovery. Features reflections by writers such as Atwood, Gaiman, and Chabon.

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  • Fowler, Karen Joy, and Debbie Notkin. 80! Memories & Reflections on Ursula K. Le Guin. Seattle: Aqueduct Press, 2010.

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    Using poetry, memoir, and scholarship, thirty writers reflect on Le Guin’s importance. Of particular note are personal reflections by Attebery and Gloss, Lefanu’s response to Le Guin’s feminist revisioning, and an interview-based biography by Phillips. Byrne explores the healing power of “little narratives.” Arnason regards her via the IWW Songbook.

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  • Freedman, Carl. Conversations with Ursula K. Le Guin. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2008.

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    Collection of in-depth interviews and conversations covering twenty-five years. Includes chronology and interviews by Freedman, McCaffery and Gregory, White, Anne Mellor, Irv Broughton, William Walsh, and Hélène Escudié.

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  • Le Guin, Ursula K., and David Naiman. Ursula K. Le Guin: Conversations on Writing. Portland, OR: Tin House Books, 2018.

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    Interviews focus on fiction, poetry, and nonfiction. Discusses craft and aesthetics, provides guidance to writers, and elaborates on genre wars, the patriarchy, the natural world, and great writing. Includes excerpts from her work and those books that inspired and guided her. Provides valuable insight into a major American voice late in her career. Emphasis on Cheek by Jowl and Words Are My Matter (see under Le Guin’s Nonfiction).

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  • McCaffery, Larry. “An Interview with Ursula K. le Guin.” In Across the Wounded Galaxies: Interviews with Contemporary American Science Fiction Writers. By Larry McCaffery, 151–175. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1990.

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    In-depth interview by a highly regarded reviewer. Focuses primarily on her process of revisioning gender.

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  • McCaffery, Larry, and Sinda Gregory. “An Interview with Ursula K. Le Guin/1982.” In Conversations with Ursula K. Le Guin. Edited by Carl Howard Freedman, 26–46. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2008.

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    In-depth interview focuses primarily on Always Coming Home.

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  • Phillips, Julie. “‘I Begin to Meet You at Last’: On the Tiptree-Russ-Le Guin Correspondence.” Cascadia Subduction Zone 6.2 (2016): 1–6.

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    Transcript of a talk given on the one hundredth anniversary of Alice Sheldon’s birth (SF author James Tiptree Jr.). Provides biographic information and includes correspondence between Le Guin, Sheldon, and Joanna Russ regarding Sheldon’s impersonation as a male writer.

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  • Phillips, Julie. “The Subversive Imagination of Ursula K. Le Guin.” The New Yorker, 25 January, 2018: n.p.

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    Informal, engaging, sometimes humorous tribute to Le Guin after her death 18 January 2019. A book-length biography by this author is in progress. Le Guin specifically requested that it not be published until after her death.

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  • Ursula K. Le Guin Official Website.

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    Includes links to pictures, book covers, and films, particularly Curry’s poignant filming of Le Guin reading “What It Was Like” about her abortion (see Words Are My Matter [2016]); Highlights Powells City of Books, Portland, her preferred independent bookstore. The Always Coming Home link connects to short videos of Kesh song and dance and Spanish guitarist and composer Àlvaro Barriuso’s Spanish translation of Le Guin’s poems.

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  • White, Jonathan. “Coming Back from the Silence.” In Talking on the Water: Conversations about Nature and Creativity. By Jonathan White, 99–120. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1994.

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    Interview with Le Guin during a “floating seminar” of writers, scientists, and scholars. Particularly valuable regarding Always Coming Home. Focuses on the nature of language, women’s self-expression, human relationship to the wild, and Coyote as anarchist. Interview also contained in Freedman 2008.

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