Ursula K. Le Guin Biography

Ursula K. Le Guin
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Ursula K. Le Guin
Quick Facts

Birthday: October 21, 1929

Nationality: American

Died At Age: 88

Sun Sign: Libra

Also Known As: Ursula Kroeber Le Guin

Born Country: United States

Born in: Berkeley, California, United States

Famous as: Author

American Women Libra Writers

Family:

Spouse/Ex-: Charles Le Guin​ (m. 1953)

father: A. L. Kroeber

mother: Theodora Kroeber

children: Caroline Le Guin, Elisabeth Le Guin, Theo Downes-Le Guin

Died on: January 22, 2018

place of death: Portland, Oregon, United States

City: Berkeley, California

U.S. State: California

Cause of Death: Heart Attack

More Facts

education: Columbia University, Radcliffe College, Columbia University, Berkeley High School, Radcliffe College

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Ursula K. Le Guin was an American author who was mostly known for her science-fiction books, including her Earthsea series and the works set in the Hainish universe. She loved fantasy and mythology since childhood. After graduating from Radcliffe College and Columbia University, she won a Fulbright scholarship to pursue her PhD in France. However, her marriage to historian Charles Le Guin put an end to her PhD plans. Soon, she had kids and was managing a writing career simultaneously. Initially, she was rejected by a lot of publishers. However, things changed when she experimented with fantasy and science-fiction. Some of her notable works were A Wizard of Earthsea, The Left Hand of Darkness, and The Dispossessed. Her works also included poetry, critical essays, and children’s books. She won innumerable honors, including multiple Nebula, Hugo, and Locus awards. She died of a heart attack in Portland, at the age of 88.

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Childhood & Early Life

Ursula K. Le Guin was born Ursula Kroeber, on October 21, 1929, in Berkeley, California, U.S.

Her father, Alfred Louis Kroeber, was an anthropologist at the University of California, Berkeley, and her mother, Theodora Kroeber, was an author who had written the famous work Ishi in Two Worlds.

Ursula was the youngest and the only girl among the four siblings in the family. Her three brothers were Karl (who grew up to be a literary scholar), Theodore, and Clifton.

The family possessed a huge collection of books. Ursula and her brothers were almost always found reading, mostly science fiction, Native American legends, and Norse mythology. The family was also often visited by academics such as Robert Oppenheimer.

They often hopped between their summer home in the Napa Valley and their home in Berkeley. At age 9, Ursula wrote a short story. She submitted it to Astounding Science Fiction at 11, but it was not selected. She thus refused to submit any work for the next 10 years.

She initially studied at Berkeley High School. In school, she was interested in poetry, mythology, and biology. However, she was not good at math.

Ursula then joined Radcliffe College and graduated with a BA degree in Renaissance French and Italian literature in 1951. At Radcliffe, she was a member of the Phi Beta Kappa society. Following this, she joined Columbia University and completed her MA in French in 1952.

She then started working for a PhD and earned a Fulbright scholarship to study in France from 1953 to 1954.

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Writing Career

Ursula K. Le Guin began writing full-time by the late 1950s. However, she was neglected until she delved into science-fiction and fantasy.

In her career spanning over 60 years, Ursula had written over 20 novels and more than a 100 short stories, apart from poems, literary essays, translations, and children's books.

Two of her masterpieces were A Wizard of Earthsea (1968) and The Left Hand of Darkness (1969). She won both the Nebula and the Hugo awards for the best novel for The Left Hand of Darkness, thus becoming the first woman to achieve the feat.

Rocannon’s World (1966), Planet of Exile (1966), and City of Illusions (1967), were Ursula’s first three novels and narrated tales of the inhabitants of the imaginary planet Hain.

The Left Hand of Darkness was the fourth novel about the Hainish universe. The book describes an unknown planet where the inhabitants are capable of turning into sexual beings for a short period every month, and each of them have the power to turn into either male or female during that time.

Her Earthsea series began with A Wizard of Earthsea (1968), which narrated the story of student wizard Sparrowhawk. It was followed by The Tombs of Atuan (1971), The Farthest Shore (1972), Tehanu (1990), Tales from Earthsea (2001), and The Other Wind (2001), all part of the same series. The Earthsea series was initially written for children and young adults. However, Ursula’s writing skills made the series a favorite for adults, too.

She also wrote a few books set in Orsinia, a fictional country. Her novels mostly consisted of descriptions of alien communities. Her 1974-released book The Dispossessed narrated the story of two neighboring worlds. While one of them was capitalistic, the other was anarchic.

The 1972-published The Word for World Is Forest spoke about the harm that indigenous people faced in a fictional planet colonized by the people of the Earth. In 1985, Ursula released Always Coming Home.

She also wrote children’s books such as Catwings Return (1999) and Jane on Her Own (1999). Her Annals of the Western Shore series consisted of the books Gifts (2004), Voices (2006), and Powers (2007). In 2008, she released Lavinia, which was based on her analysis of a character from Virgil’s Aeneid.

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Most of her essays consisted of literary criticism of fantasy fiction. She also wrote on feminism and writing. Some such essays have been collected in the anthologies The Language of the Night (1979), Steering the Craft (1998), Dancing at the Edge of the World (1989), Words Are My Matter (2016), and The Wave in the Mind (2004).

The book No Time to Spare: Thinking About What Matters, released in 2017, consisted of a number of essays that had earlier been published on Ursula’s blog.

Some of her collections of poems were Wild Angels (1975), Going Out with Peacocks, and Other Poems (1994), Wild Oats and Fireweed (1988), Incredible Good Fortune (2006), and Finding My Elegy: New and Selected Poems 1960–2010 (2012).

Later in life, Ursula had retired from teaching. She also stopped writing apart from poetry. She disliked platforms such as Amazon and how they controlled reading habits of online consumers.

She often posted her suggestions for young writers on her blog Book View Café. In 1998, she wrote the non-fiction book Steering the Craft: A 21-Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story.

Awards

Throughout her career, Ursula K. Le Guin had won numerous awards, including six Nebulas, eight Hugos, and 22 Locus Awards. She also won the Kafka Prize.

In 2003, she became the second woman to win the title of the Grand Master of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.

In 2014, Ursula earned the National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. She was declared a Living Legend by the U.S. Library of Congress in 2000.

Other Pursuits

Ursula had also served as an editor and had taught courses at various educational institutes such as Bennington College, Tulane University, and Stanford University. She was part of the editorial boards of the journals Science Fiction Studies and Paradoxa.

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In May 1983, Ursula delivered a commencement speech for the students of Mills College in Oakland, California. The speech was titled A Left-handed Commencement Address.

The speech eventually gained the 82nd spot on American Rhetoric's list of the Top 100 Speeches of the 20th Century. It also became part of her non-fiction work Dancing at the Edge of the World.

Personal Life & Death

In 1953, Ursula met historian Charles Le Guin while going to France aboard the Queen Mary. They fell in love and got married in Paris in December 1953. Unfortunately, Ursula had to quit her doctoral studies after getting married.

In 1957, Ursula gave birth to her first child, a daughter named Elisabeth. In 1959, she had her second daughter, Caroline. The same year, Charles began teaching history at the Portland State University. The family thus shifted to Portland, Oregon.

In 1964, Ursula had her third child, her son, Theodore. Although Ursula earned Fulbright grants to travel to England in 1968 and 1975, the family continued to stay in Portland.

Ursula had grown up in a non-religious environment. However, she later drifted toward Taoism and Buddhism.

On January 22, 2018, Ursula breathed her last at her home in Portland. She was 88 at the time of her death.

Her family stated she had had a heart attack. Her son later said that Ursula was not keeping well for a few months prior to her death.

A number of private memorial services were held in her honor in Portland. One of them, held in June 2018, contained speeches by the writers Margaret Atwood, Walidah Imarisha, and Molly Gloss.

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