Happy 80th Birthday, Ursula Le Guin

I find it an almost overwhelming task to write about what Ursula Le Guin means to me. Perhaps you will get an idea of how I’m feeling if I tell you that when I had a chance to meet her, at a reading, and get my copy of Tehanu signed, I got tears in my eyes as I mumbled some incoherent thanks for what her work has been to me over the years. She gave me a sharp look, out of that canny, lined, intelligent face that somehow looks exactly as you would imagine her, and wrote spontaneously “with best wishes” along with my name and her signature.

I think I was twelve when I first read A Wizard of Earthsea. I thought it was the best book I had ever read, which is saying quite a lot because I had already read Tolkien (though not with the depth and appreciation I brought to him later). I read the succeeding Earthsea books, the original trilogy, as they were published. I loved that harsh, cold, brilliant world of islands and dragons and raiders and wizards and Words.

I was in my thirties when Tehanu was published, and I loved that, too. It was, perhaps, the perfect time to read it, when no longer young, no longer captivated with the adventure-quest aspect of life, beginning to understand the world’s cruelty as well as its beauty, and to appreciate Le Guin’s recognition of the redemptive power of love against what can be a bleak existence in the world.

The Dispossessed and The Left Hand of Darkness made me think, and taught me new ideas about politics (anarchy) and religion (Daoism). I wrote a paper about The Left Hand of Darkness for a graduate seminar on Androgyny in Literature, and studying its images made me appreciate even more Le Guin’s austere and orderly mind.

Her work is intellectual, clear, serious, beautiful, always thoughtful. I love her essays as much as or even more than her novels, because I love the glimpse of the personal, the mind behind the words. I have taught, and continue to teach, her short stories such as “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas”, which always raise deep and far-reaching questions about the world and about humanity.

Her work presents sentiments – love, hope, courage, faith – but is never sentimental. She is clear-eyed about the darker elements of human life, yet retains a steadfast optimism about the power of the imagination, of story-telling, of community.

Ursula Le Guin’s work has informed me as a reader, a writer, a teacher, a feminist, an activist, a woman. She has changed my life.

Thank you, Ursula Le Guin, from the bottom of my heart.

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3 Responses

  1. Your post made me teary. 🙂

    Have you read _Always Coming Home_? I’m about to embark on it for a class, so excited.

    • Thanks 🙂 Are you reading Always Coming Home, or teaching it? How lovely to teach it… I have the 1st edition of it in a box with a cassette tape of music and poetry (note to self – get tape converted to mp3…)

  2. I’m reading it, and hopefully writing about it.

    I imagine that first edition to be luxuriantly big.

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