Remembering Ursula K. Le Guin

From l to r: Michael Wallenfells, Ursula K. Le Guin, Misha Stone, Duane Wilkins, May 2013, Central Library

Ursula K. Le Guin died in her home in Portland, Oregon on January 22nd at the age of 88. There have been so many marvelous essays and remembrances of her from Margaret Atwood, Karen Joy Fowler, Nisi Shawl, Nicola Griffith, Margaret Killjoy, John Scalzi and more. I don’t feel as though I can add anything new to the chorus, other than to share what Ursula K. Le Guin meant to me.

I encountered Le Guin on my father’s bookshelves, where I started in on a life-long love of science fiction and fantasy. I read The Lathe of Heaven, A Wizard of Earthsea, The Dispossessed, The Left Hand of Darkness. I read her essays and interviews. And in 2004 at the Public Library Association Conference she gave a talk entitled “Genre: A Word Only a Frenchman Could Love,” which you can now find in her collection Words Are My Matter. Le Guin spoke eloquently and forcefully about the snobbery and disdain heaped on genre fiction. She said:

All judgment of literature by genre is tripe. All judgment of a category of literature as inherently superior or inferior is tripe.

A book can’t be judged by its cover, or by its label. A book can be judged only by reading it. There are many bad books. There are no bad genres.

Le Guin was outspoken on so many issues–from literature to politics to pop culture to her own work–and she always brought her signature wit and incisive intellect to the occasion.

I had the pleasure of hosting Le Guin at the Central Library in 2013 for the translation she and Mariano Martin Rodrizuez did of Romanian science fiction writer Gheorghe Sasarman’s Squaring the Circle. Le Guin met Rodriguez for the first time in person that night, even though she had translated his Spanish translation into English. It was so wonderful to meet Ursula Le Guin and I will treasure my moments with her and her friend and fellow writer Vonda McIntyre that night. During the signing, two teenage boys had her sign a guitar. Ursula K. Le Guin was a rock star, and it made me ebullient to see two youth recognize this so early in life.

Ursula K. Le Guin’s legacy, her status as a visionary, critical thinker, imaginer of worlds, empathic humanist and more will live on in her words and her worlds. Ursula’s writing and her voice meant to me that women could change and challenge the status quo in literature and society. Ursula’s voice and vision told me that women could like science fiction and fantasy but also transform it. Ursula’s work and wisdom shared other ways of seeing and other ways of being and opened the playing field to so many.

Ursula did not want to be called a genius, a fact that Karen Joy Fowler learned recently in writing the introduction to her recent collection No Time To Spare, but we can recognize the brilliance and the forward-thinking nature of her work. We can pass the wisdom of her words and the wisdom of the questions she posed to the next generation of readers. May she be read and reread and remembered.

~ posted by Misha S.

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