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Ursula Kroeber Le Guin
Ursula K. Le Guin at an informal bookstore Q&A session, July 2004
Ursula K. Le Guin at an informal bookstore Q&A session, July 2004
Born (1929-10-21)October 21, 1929
Died January 22, 2018(2018-01-22) (aged 88)
Portland, Oregon, United States
Occupation Novelist
Nationality American
Genre Science fiction

Ursula Kroeber Le Guin (pronounced /ˈɝsələ ˈkroʊbɚ ləˈgwɪn/) (October 21, 1929 – January 22, 2018) was an American writer. She wrote books, poetry, children's books, essays, short stories, fantasy and science fiction.


Early life: California

Ursula K. Le Guin was born Ursula Kroeber in Berkeley, California, on October 21, 1929. Her father, Alfred Louis Kroeber (1876–1960), was an anthropologist at the University of California, Berkeley. Le Guin's mother, Theodora Kroeber (1897–1979; born Theodora Covel Kracaw), had a graduate degree in psychology. She started writing in her sixties and became a successful author. Her best known work was Ishi in Two Worlds (1961). This was a biography of Ishi, an indigenous American who was the last known member of the Yahi tribe.

Ursula had three older brothers: Karl, Theodore, and Clifton. The family had a large collection of books. Ursula and her brothers all liked to read when they were young. Many people visited the Kroeber family. Some of the visitors were well-known academics such as Robert Oppenheimer. Le Guin used Oppenheimer as the model for her lead character in The Dispossessed, a physicist named Shevek. The family lived in a summer home in the Napa valley and a house in Berkeley during the school year.


Le Guin studied at Berkeley High School. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Renaissance French and Italian literature from Radcliffe College in 1951. She was a member of the Phi Beta Kappa honor society. Le Guin then studied at Columbia University, and earned a Master of Arts in French in 1952. Soon after, she began a Ph.D. program. She won a Fulbright grant to continue her studies in France from 1953 to 1954.


In 1953, while traveling to France aboard the Queen Mary, Ursula met historian Charles Le Guin.

Marriage and children

They got married in Paris in December 1953. According to Le Guin, the marriage signaled the "end of the doctorate" for her. While her husband finished his doctorate at Emory University in Georgia, and later at the University of Idaho, Le Guin taught French and worked as a secretary until the birth of her daughter Elisabeth in 1957. The couple had two daughters, Elisabeth and Caroline, by the time they moved, and a son, Theodore, was born in Portland in 1964.

Return to the United States: Portland

In 1959 Charles became an instructor in history at Portland State University, and the couple moved to Portland, Oregon. They would remain there for the rest of their lives, although Le Guin received further Fulbright grants to travel to London in 1968 and 1975.

Writing life

She first wrote in the 1960s. She was awarded many Hugo and Nebula awards. She was given the Gandalf Grand Master award in 1979 and the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America Grand Master Award in 2003. She got eighteen Locus Awards, more than any other writer. Her book The Farthest Shore won the National Book Award for Children's Books in 1973.

Le Guin was the Professional Guest of Honor at the 1975 World Science Fiction Convention in Melbourne, Australia. She got the Library of Congress Living Legends award in the "Writers and Artists" area in April 2000 for her additions to America's cultural history. In 2004, Le Guin was the was given the Association for Library Service to Children's May Hill Arbuthnot Honor Lecture Award.


Le Guin died on January 22, 2018, at her home in Portland. She was 88 years old. Her son said that she had been sick for several months. He said that she probably had a heart attack. There was a private memorial service for her in Portland. There was also a public memorial service in June 2018. At this service, many writers gave speeches, including: Margaret Atwood, Molly Gloss, and Walidah Imarisha

Beliefs and values

Political Freedom

In 1975, Le Guin won a Nebula Award for her story "The Diary of the Rose." She did not accept the award. This was a protest against the Science Fiction Writers of America. The SFWA had recently canceled Stanisław Lem's membership in the group. Le Guin believed they kicked Lem out because he criticized American science fiction and chose to live in the Soviet Union, She said she could not take an award for a story about an unfree society from a writers' group that did not protect freedom.


Le Guin said she was did not learn any religion and was not taught to be religious as a child. But, she became very interested in Taoism and Buddhism. She said that Taoism was a tool to help her understand her life as a teenager and young adult. In 1997 she published a translation of the Tao Te Ching.

Author's rights

In December 2009, Le Guin quit the Authors Guild. She did this to protest the Guild's agreement with the Google's book digitization project. "You decided to deal with the devil", she wrote in her letter when she quit. She wrote that they had given control over authors' rights and copyright to a company for nothing. Le Guin made a speech at the 2014 National Book Awards. She explained that Amazon's control over the publishing industry was bad and dangerous. She was especially concerned about how Amazon blocked the Hachette Book Group from selling all books because the companies disagreed about how to sell ebooks. The speech was broadcast twice by National Public Radio. And, many other news organizations reported on it around the world.


Earthsea (fantasy)

The Earthsea novels

Hainish Cycle (science fiction)

The Hainish Cycle novels

Miscellaneous novels and story cycles

  • The Lathe of Heaven, 1971 (made into TV movies, 1980 and 2002)
  • The Eye of the Heron, 1978 (first published in the anthology Millennial Women)
  • Malafrena, 1979
  • The Beginning Place, 1980 (also published as Threshold, 1986)
  • Always Coming Home, 1985
  • Lavinia, 2008

The Catwings Collection


  • The Language of the Night, 1979, revised edition 1992
  • Dancing at the Edge of the World, 1989
  • Revisioning Earthsea, 1992 (a published lecture - essay)
  • Steering the Craft, 1998 (about writing)
  • The Wave in the Mind, 2004

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