Obit: Author Ursula K Le Guin dies at 88

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The multi award-winning writer of The Left Hand of Darkness and A Wizard of Earthsea has died at her home in Portland, Oregon

23 Jan 2018 | | The Guardian

Ursula K Le Guin, the award-winning fantasy and science fiction author, has died at the age of 88.

Le Guin’s books have sold millions worldwide and won her a number of prestigious accolades, including Hugo and Nebula awards for her 1969 novel The Left Hand of Darkness.

It is reported that she died at her home in Portland, Oregon, on Monday, as confirmed by her family on her official Twitter page.

On Tuesday night, tributes were pouring in from authors and thinkers including Neil Gaiman, Laurie Penny, Guy Gavriel Kay and John Scalzi.

Le Guin was first published in 1959. Her first published novel was Rocannon’s World in 1966, one of many works set in the Hainish Cycle, an alternate/future history. Two years later, she broke out with A Wizard of Earthsea, a book that was widely regarded as one of her finest and an important text in the genre. Margaret Atwood referred to as it one of the “wellsprings” of fantasy literature and it went on to win a number of awards.

The following year she wrote The Left Hand of Darkness, a book that brought her further praise and awards. It was reprinted more than 30 times and established her as a major science fiction author yet Le Guin often felt her chosen genre was under appreciated by many of those in literary circles.

“Realism is a genre – a very rich one, that gave us and continues to give us lots of great fiction,” Le Guin told the Guardian in 2016. “But by making that one genre the standard of quality, by limiting literature to it, we were leaving too much serious writing out of serious consideration. Too many imaginative babies were going out with the bathwater. Too many critics and teachers ignored – were ignorant of – any kind of fiction but realism.”

She also spoke about her problems within the genre due to her gender. “For a woman, any literary award, honors, notice of any sort has been an uphill climb,” she told the LA Review of Books last year. “And if she insists upon flouting convention and writing science fiction and fantasy and indescribable stuff, it’s even harder.”

Le Guin’s work was often adapted for both the big and small screens, most notably with Goro Miyazaki’s Tales From Earthsea in 2006. While she appreciated the aesthetic, Le Guin was vocal about her problem with the film’s focus on violence.

As well as her many novels, Le Guin was also known for her poetry, short stories and essays. Along with fellow writers Ken Kesey, Brian Booth and William Stafford, she founded the Oregon Institute of Literary Arts and also wrote a guide for writers. She was also a contributor at the Guardian, writing a number of book reviews. Her most recent was published in November 2017.

In 2014, Le Guin was awarded a lifetime achievement award by the National Book Foundation. In her speech, she criticized Amazon, referring to the online retailer as a “profiteer”.

“I see sales departments given control over editorial,” she said. “I see my own publishers in a silly panic of ignorance and greed, charging public libraries, for an e-book, six or seven times more than they charge customers.”

It wasn’t the first time she took aim at an online behemoth. In 2009, Le Guin resigned from the Authors Guild after they endorsed Google’s book digitization project, referring to it as a “deal with the devil”.

In talking about her career last year, she said: “I don’t think the rewards have been overdone. I think I’ve earned them. They are welcome and useful to me because they shore up my self-esteem, which wobbles as you get old and can’t do what you used to do.”

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