Ursula K. Le Guin was born Ursula Kroeber in Berkeley, California, on October 21, 1929. Her mother, Theodora Krackaw Kroeber, had an advanced degree in psychology and was a well-known writer for her narratives: Ishi in Two Worlds in 1961 and Ishi, Last of His Tribe in 1964. Le Guin’s Father, Alfred Kroeber, was a distinguished anthropologist for his work with tribes of Native Americans indigenous to California (Carmean, Williams, and Rich). Her father also taught at the University of California at Berkeley. Le Guin and her three older brothers Karl, Theodore, and Clifford were encouraged to read at a young age (Boon and Heller). During the academic year, the Kroebers lived at their home in Berkeley. When summer arrived, the family would move to their estate, Kishamish, in Napa Valley. There, the family enjoyed the company of many intellectuals: writers, scholars, graduate students, and American Indians. Also, Le Guin and her brother frequently explored their forty-acre summer home. This exploration would later influence many of her novels that are based on journeys by foot (Boon and Heller). Growing up in an environment that fostered intellectual pursuit and having unlimited access to books, sparked Le Guin’s creativity. Due to her parents’ dedication to other cultures, her fiction shows many different worldviews other than the usual Euro-American competitive materialism.
Her multiple worldviews allow Le Guin’s writing to move smoothly across barriers of culture, language, gender, and ideology while exploring both dimensions of social and psychological identity (Carmean, Williams, and Rich). Le Guin discovered science fiction while reading the works of Lord Dunsany, and remarkably, she produced her first fantasy when she was only nine years old. Thereafter, a magazine rejected her first science fiction story, written when she was eleven (Carmean, Williams, and Rich). In 1947, Le Guin was enrolled in Harvard University’s Radcliffe College and graduated in 1951 with a bachelor’s degree in French and Italian with an emphasis in Renaissance literature (Carmean, Williams, and Rich). She then entered Columbia University and completed her master’s degree in 1952. Le Guin began a doctoral program at Columbia, but in December of 1953 she decided to end her studies to marry Charles Le Guin, a history professor, in Paris, France. She had met Charles while traveling to France as a Fulbright Fellow (Boon and Heller). After the wedding, the Le Guins lived in Georgia. While in Georgia, Ursula Le Guin taught French at Mercer University, and Charles Le Guin had successfully completed his Ph.D. in French history at Emory University.
The Le Guins then moved to Idaho and had their first child, Elizabeth, in 1957, and their second child, Caroline, in 1959. In the same year, Charles Le Guin took a position at Portland State University and the family moved to Oregon permanently. The Le Guin’s third and final child, Theodore, was born in 1964 (Carmean, Williams, and Rich). Ursula Le Guin began trying to publish her work in book form instead of magazines (Carmean, Williams, and Rich). She began writing poetry, later collected in Wild Angels in 1975, and a few novels after her marriage. Publishers rejected her early works for not fitting precisely into a genre (Boon and Heller). Her breakthrough in writing occurred in September 1962, when the publishing company, Fantastic, published “April in Paris.” The following year, the same publisher printed her first science fiction story, “The Masters” (Carmean, Williams, and Rich). Le Guin began to earn prestigious awards and achieve recognition for her trilogy: Rocannon’s World (1966), Planet of Exile (1996), and City of Illusions (1967). In 1968, Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea won the Boston Globe Horn Book Award and in 1969, The Left Hand of Darkness won both the Hugo and Nebula awards. She became the first writer to win both the Hugo Award and the Nebula Award twice for the novel The Dispossessed (1974, 1975).
Since the 1970s, Le Guin has won many more awards, including several Hugos and Nebulas, Pen/USA, Locus Readers Awards, a Pushcart Prize, and a Gandalf award for achievement in fantasy (Boon and Heller). Additionally, she won the Kafka Award in 1986; a Hugo Award for “Buffalo Gals, Won’t You Come Out Tonight?” (1988); a Nebula Award for Tehanu and “Solitude” (1995); and the Endeavor Award or both The Telling (2000) and Tales from Earthsea (2001); Lastly, Le Guin was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2001, and was named Grand Master by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America in 2003 (Carmean, Williams, and Rich). While most of Le Guin’s time was devoted to writing, she was also known to be involved in political activities. As she gained popularity, she became a strong advocate for improving the quality of fantasy and science fiction. She was also a firm advocate for feminism. Her early works lightly touched on gender issues; later works, such as Tehanu, addressed the absence of equality directly (Carmean, Williams, and Rich).
While she placed an emphasis on science fiction and gender issues, the subject of Le Guin’s work is always humankind. She uses a descriptive technique while her mode is metaphoric. Drawing from the outlook of the Daoist philosopher Laozi, Le Guin’s characters seek unity and complete self-awareness and must be able to recognize the true natures of people or objects before they can truly understand their place in the world. The characters must learn the inevitable paradoxes in life and the ambiguous nature of creation (Carmean, Williams, and Rich).
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