Author Ursula LeGuin has died, at the age of 88. She was a giant in the field—and by “the field,” I mean not just science fiction and fantasy, but the world of American letters. Winner of multiple Hugo and Nebula Awards, as well as the National Book Award, she more recently, in 2014, was awarded a lifetime achievement award, the National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. In receiving the award, she accepted on behalf of all the science fiction and fantasy writers who had for decades been excluded from the ranks of literature.
She also, in accepting the award, spoke out against the tyranny of commercialism in writing and publishing. “We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable,” she said. “So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art and very often in our art, the art of words.”
You can hear her remarks here, where she received the award from Neil Gaiman.
Her best known works include The Left Hand of Darkness, A Wizard of Earthsea, and The Tombs of Atuan. Her essays on the craft of writing are standard reading for all aspiring writers of the imagination. I’ve had a quote from her at the top of my writing advice page for approximately forever.
She was also a founding member of the writers’ cooperative, Book View Café, of which I am a more come-lately member. I only met her once, at a convention where I was unfortunately scheduled to give a reading opposite her autograph session. After reading a bit, I suggested to the one loyal fan who had come to see me, “Why don’t we go over and get in line with everyone else to meet Ms. LeGuin, okay?” I got no argument.
(Photo at top by Eileen Gunn, from Ms. LeGuin’s website.)