Ursula K. Le Guin (1929–2018)

Ursula K. Le Guin holding her tribble at the Tiptree Symposium in 2015. Photo by Jeffrey Smith.

Ursula K. Le Guin died January 22 at the age of 88 reports the New York Times:

[The] immensely popular author who brought literary depth and a tough-minded feminist sensibility to science fiction and fantasy with books like “The Left Hand of Darkness” and the Earthsea series, died on Monday at her home in Portland, Ore. She was 88.

Her son, Theo Downes-Le Guin, confirmed the death. He did not specify a cause but said she had been in poor health for several months.

File 770 hopes to run a full tribute later. Meanwhile, here are some of the initial responses from people in the field, some giving favorite Le Guin quotes.

[Thanks to ULTRAGOTHA, JJ, Lis Carey and Cassy B for the story.]

70 thoughts on “Ursula K. Le Guin (1929–2018)

  1. In the roundup of eulogies, Mary Robinette Kowal’s deserve a link too:


    As for myself, I really, really loved A Wizard of Earthsea as a child. And I would have loved going to a wizarding school that included sailing lessons with magewind.

    The Earthsea books was also one of the first instances where I consciously went back to a childrens book as an adult. At that time it had become a quartet with the addition of Tehanu. I knew very little about Le Guin then, but reading the original trilogy and then Tehanu made me go “hmm, seems the author have become a feminist since the first three books”. (I’ve later realized that my “have become” was inaccurate, but I suspect Le Guin herself would agree that the feminist perspective is much stronger in Tehanu than in the first three books.) I think that experience, from reading the quartet in sequence, was a bit of an eye-opener for me, in terms of how a world is more than the people we usually hear about in stories.

  2. I suppose she said it herself, best. “For a word to be spoken, there must be silence. Before, and after.”

    She spoke a great many very fine words, and will be sorely missed.

  3. Of her many achievements, one that’s sometimes overlooked is bringing an anthropological viewpoint to SF — IMO one of the reasons why so much of her work has aged so well.

    She’ll be deeply missed.

  4. Damn.

    I remember the first time I ever read her were the first two Hainish novels when they first appeared in paperback in the UK, followed shortly thereafter by the first UK paperback of “The Left Hand Of Darkness”. This was during my second year at the University of York, when I still had plenty of time for reading books.

    I also recently re-read the Earthsea Trilogy following the BBC Radio adaptations.


  5. A Wizard of Earthsea was the only genre book on the curriculum when I went to high school, and then later in my first year in undergrad Left Hand of Darkness was the centrepiece of my SF survey course. I’ve been slowly rationing her books ever since, so that I can have something new of hers to read for as long as possible.


  6. @Nigel
    Thank you. I intend to buy Le Guin’s The Wind’s Four Quarters and The Compass Rose and give them to everyone I haven’t already given them to – and woe to any Davinlike disciples I ever meet who try to condescend to HER.

  7. NPR obit.
    BBC obit.
    links to BBC interviews/articles wrt Le Guin (some very removed, e.g. Pratchett).
    The respect in these is unsurprising given how she’s been recognized over the last many years; it’s still a bit gratifying to someone who started reading her almost half a century ago (although if I had the chance I’d suggest to that younger, self-involved person that he not start with The Left Hand of Darkness, which takes receptiveness).

    The report from her son suggests she’d been declining for some time. I would not for anything “upon the wrack of this tough world/Stretch [her] out longer” — but we are poorer for not having her as conscience and visionary.

  8. Somewhere—maybe Language of the Night—she wrote about the UK LeGuin thing wondering what they thought the initials stood for—Ulysses Kingfisher?

    I was already fond of the bird, but when I needed a pen name, that bit came back to me.

  9. I’m also fond of her sweet children’s book, A Visit from Dr. Katz. But then I’m a crazy cat lady.

  10. I just heard. If she has been declining then I am glad that she is no longer suffering. But what a loss and not just to science fiction. I don’t have words that will do justice to but I will miss her so much.

    Her books don’t always seem like that much at the time but they have a habit of staying in mind and surfacing with a new view every so often. I read a ton of books growing up but I’ll always remember Wizard of Earthsea; so spare and yet so so much more. I think I need a re-read.

  11. So many have spoken so eloquently about what she has meant to them, her influence both personal and broader ranging. I am grateful to them as I can’t seem to put words together on this. I just keep pulling books off the shelf and browsing pages, reminding myself of how I first fell in love with them.

  12. Ursula K. Le Guin (1929–2018)

    We will wrap her body in linen,
    and return it to the elements.

    We will drink to her memory,
    and bear witness to her wisdom.

    We will plant seeds of her stories,
    that they may grow into forests.

    We will light candles of words,
    and make new illuminations.

    We will speak her name to the wind,
    and pollinate fields and gardens.

    She will not be present,
    but we won’t let that stop her.

    I don’t usually do poetry, but sometimes the compulsion arises.
    I think she would have liked the cheekiness of the last lines.
    “Nevertheless, she persisted.”

  13. Reposted from my blog.

    I sat at work and cried when I heard the news. It was like losing a family friend- I’ve read her for 40 years. So what can I say about someone so vital?

    What immediately comes to mind is this: she was the one they weren’t able to erase. She was the one whose writing could not be suppressed.

    How talented and powerful was she? Well, let’s put it this way. Periodically guys will put out “Best of SF&F lists.” You know, “The Top Writers of SF&F”, the “Greats of SF&F”, “The Must Reads of SF&F.” “The Writers that Defined SF&F”.

    And here’s the thing. Those lists are nearly always 19 male writers, both famous and ones the listmaker wants to be more famous…and Ursula K. LeGuin. Even if they manage to avoid putting any other women writers in these lists, they STILL have to put Ursula K LeGuin on the list. She forced even the misogynistic list makers to acknowledge her. THEY COULD NOT ERASE HER.

    She wasn’t the only woman to be a success at writing SF&F or Anthropology, and she would be be the last person to want to be considered a unique unicorn in that regard. So as a tribute to her, here’s some other wen who were successes at SF&F:

    CL Moore, Andre Norton, CJ Cherryh, Connie Willis, Diana Wynne Jones, HM Hoover, James Yolen, Margaret Atwood, L. M. Bujuld, Nnedi Okorafor, Charlie Jane Anders, Cat Valente, Tanya Huff, Leigh Brackett, Joanna Russell, Joan D. Vinge, Octavia Butler, Patricia McKillip, Octavia Butler, Madeline L’Engle, Jo Walton, Anne Leckie, Tanith Lee, Mary Stewart, Elizabeth Moon, J.K. Rowling, Emma Bull, Suzanne Collins, Naomi Novick, Robin McKinley, NK Jemison James Tiptree Jr., Susanna Clarke, Linda Nagata, PD James, Jessica Salmonson, Kameron Hurley, Rosemary Kirstein, Vonda McIntyre, Patricia Wrede, Ru Emerson, Martha Wells, and so many more.

    She wasn’t alone, she’ll never be alone. But the listmakers have never managed to suppress her writing, or diminish her brilliance. Even beyond her writing, her influence lasts in the writings of the authors who follow her, and acknowledge her influence.

    She’s influencing me still. She always will.

    May she never be forgotten.

Comments are closed.