On several dimensions important to me—and to most writers—Ursula Le Guin has excelled almost beyond comprehension. One thing I admire, which doesn’t fit into any particular category, is that Le Guin’s writing is a spiral rather than a line, i.e., she didn’t write one way and then move on to another, never looking back. When you examine the list of her publications at the end of this blog, you’ll see that in any given year, she was writing in several directions, and in later years she circled back to earlier series.
Wonder Woman for Breadth
Although best known for science fiction and fantasy, over a writing career that spanned more than half a century, she wrote all sorts of things for all sorts of readers, across genres and formats. Her first publication was a poem, “Folksong from the Montayna Province,” in 1959. She continued to write poetry over the decades, but she would never have labeled herself a poet. The New York Times (2016) called her “America’s greatest living science fiction writer,” but she preferred to be known as a novelist.
Besides poetry, science fiction, and fantasy, she wrote children’s books, short stories, literary fiction, non-fiction, literary criticism, and blogs. Among her non-fiction writings are books of advice for writers, which grew out of her work as an editor and teacher (at Tulane, Bennington, and Stanford, among others), the best known of which is Steering the Craft. BTW, within the last nine months, this guide has been recommended to me by two separate and independent writing teachers.
Wonder Woman for Social Justice
Writing during years when what was socially accepted was evolving, her fiction often depicted alternatives seldom spoken of regarding gender options and alternatives, religion, race, sexuality, politics, the natural environment, and culture. Perhaps this was the legacy of having an anthropologist father and a mother trained in psychology who later turned to writing. According to Wikipedia, her writing contains many recurring themes and ideas: the archetypal journey, cultural contact, communication, the search for identity, and reconciling opposing forces. This is as I remembered her fiction from years ago. I think it’s about time to revisit Le Guin!
Her novel The Left Hand of Darkness (1969) has been called her first contribution to feminism. Le Guin created, for example, a planet where humans have no fixed sex. Her work brings to the foreground on an ongoing basis equality, coming-of-age, and death.
What I call her “sociological/cultural” approach is what appealed to me, as opposed to sci-fi/fantasy that depends on technology, genetic modification, mind control, robots, and similar machines of domination.
Wonder Woman for Achievement
Le Guin graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Radcliffe and was awarded three Fulbrights. In 2002 the U.S. Library of Congress made Le Guin a Living Legend in the “Writers and Artists” category.
A PEN/Malamud Award
American Library Association honors for young adult literature and for children’s literature
Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Lifetime Achievement Award
The Maxine Cushing Gray Fellowship for Writers from the Washington Center for the Book
The Emperor Has No Clothes Award from the Freedom From Religion Foundation
National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters (a lifetime Achievement award)
Gandalf Award Grand Master of Fantasy
Pilgrim Award from the Science Fiction Research Association
Induction into the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame.
Grand Master of The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America
North American Society for Utopian Studies Lyman Tower Sargent Distinguished Scholar Award
Awards for Specific Works
1 World Fantasy Award.
4 awards in short fiction
19 Locus awards voted by magazine subscribers
National Book Award for Young People’s Literature
Finalist for 10 Mythopoeic Awards
Finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction
Hugo Award for Best Related Work
PLUS: other annual “Year’s Best” awards
Wonder Woman for Productivity
See for yourself below. And this is only an approximation! I’ve marked award winners by *. For more than one award, multiple asterisks. Disclaimer: I’ve done my best but I’m sure I’ve missed both publications (particularly short stories and novellas, which often don’t make lists) and awards. Still, it’s pretty impressive!
I was about to start this blog by talking about how I’ve never been a big fan of fantasy—but then realized I should say more truthfully that I’ve not been reading fantasy recently.
I went through a period some decades ago when I read fairytales. I sought out the non-Disney versions—for example, Cinderella in which the wicked stepsisters cut off their toes or heels in order to try to fit into the glass slipper. Do fairytales count? YES! If you google “fantasy” (besides fantasy football) you’ll get links to science fiction, speculative fiction, fairytales, anime, science fantasy, legend, and horror, animation, myth, manga, cartoon, etc.
Fantasy is a genre of fiction set in a fictional universe, often—but not always—without any locations, events, or people referencing the real world. Its roots are in oral traditions, which then developed into literature and drama. There was a time when my husband and I read aloud to each other from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through The Looking Glass, sometimes laughing so hard we could hardly read.
And Ursula Le Guin counts! She was a favorite during my science fiction phase.
More recently, I really didn’t appreciate Harry Potter, though recommended by my daughter and granddaughters. (I know: shocking!) However, during a recent visit, these same granddaughters (now 13 and 10) gave me new recommendations.
The younger one has read all ten volumes of Wings of Fire. This is her favorite series. Dragons are big time. But she also recommends Monstress by Marjorie Liu (author) and Sana Takeda (illustrator).
This is like a hardbound comic book, so quite a fast read. Is this different from a graphic novel? (Kindle references comiXology. Who knew?)
The books in this series are set in 1900s Asia and tells the story of a teenage girl who struggles to survive the trauma of war. She shares a mysterious psychic link with an enormously powerful monster. Both the girl and the monster are transformed by this connection.
The 13-year-old’s absolute favorite author is Sarah J. Maas. Maas is a NYT best-selling author of the Thrown of Glass series. In this series, a beautiful young assassin is the protagonist. She’s a bit like a female James Bond in terms of abilities that border on superpowers. She has a tragic past that garners sympathy, beauty and honor that make her appealing, a temper and murders to make her flawed. Maas uses great visual imagery. And the stories involve mysteries of the dark powers and lost magic. Throw in an arch enemy and two love interests, and what’s not to like?
She currently has 3 books in a second series and at least the beginning of a third series. Catwoman: Soulstealer (DC icon series) is due out in August of this year.
Bottom line: Revisit some version of fantasy in 2018. Whether classic or modern, dipping into an alternate world broadens one’s thinking.
You may recall that in one of my previous blogs, I mentioned talking with writers about writing as one of the best things about a writing workshop at Nimrod. Although not as interactive, there are lots of ways to get inside writers’ heads.
His short answer is that how much you write (publish) isn’t a reflection of how well you write. But there are many paragraphs of well-crafted opinion that are well worth reading. Of course, you already know that Stephen King wrote one of my favorite books on writing.
On Saturday, August 29, NPR’s Scott Simon interviewed Ursula Le Guin on Weekend Edition. Among other things, she talked about the effect of aging on her writing. She is 85. It’s well worth a listen.
If you are a magazine person, there are many places to get insights about and from writers. Two of the most popular are Poets & Writersand Writer’s Digest.