For critics of the 1960s, fantasy and science fiction were genres to be scoffed at. Wizards and aliens were low-brow and lived in a realm reserved for male writers only.
Into this landscape entered prolific novelist Ursula K. Le Guin, who transformed the fantasy and science fiction genres with her literary flair and feminist sensibilities.
As we approach what would have been Le Guin’s 90th birthday, we honor her lasting impact.
Le Guin was born on Oct. 21, 1929. Her mother was a writer, her father an anthropologist and her husband a historian.
Though raised “irreligious as a jackrabbit,” Le Guin took to Taoism and Buddhism as an adult. Each of these elements profoundly influenced her writing.
Le Guin admired speculative fiction for its ability to use the foreign to reflect the familiar. Though critics were quick to dismiss alien worlds, Le Guin used those alien worlds to illuminate fundamental truths of the human condition.
She refused to be confined, however, to a specific genre. Le Guin’s artistry also delved into realistic fiction, non-fiction, essays, speeches and translations.
In her own words, “I still kind of twitch and growl when I’m reduced to being the science fiction writer. I’m a novelist and increasingly a poet. And sometimes I wish they’d call me that.”
Her books have been translated into more than 40 languages, selling millions of copies worldwide. Her bibliography boasts more than 20 novels, 100 short stories and a dozen volumes of poetry.
This breadth can be intimidating, but an excellent starting point is with one of her most famous novels, “A Wizard of Earthsea.”
“A Wizard of Earthsea” was quietly subversive for its time. The series features a non-white protagonist who is a young wizard in training, at odds with conventional depictions of old wizards with long, white beards.
The novel is available through the Manatee County library system in book, audiobook and e-audiobook format. The entire Earthsea series has also been beautifully compiled into a complete illustrated edition entitled “The Books of Earthsea.”
In “The Left Hand of Darkness,” interplanetary traveler Genly Ai must make sense of an alien planet with sex-changing inhabitants. Published to great critical acclaim, this novel remains a cornerstone of classic feminist science fiction.
Do you enjoy poetry? If so, try “So Far so Good: Final Poems.” The revised manuscript for this collection was sent to publishers only days before Le Guin’s death in 2018, marking it as her final farewell.
Interested in developing your own writing skills? Check out the writing guide “Steering the Craft,” and learn tips directly from the master storyteller herself.
“The Wave in the Mind” is a collection of essays wherein she explores a broad array of subjects, ranging from Tolstoy, Twain and Tolkien to women’s shoes, beauty and family life. This title can be accessed through Manatee County library system’s digital collection.
Call your local branch for more information on available titles.
▪ Central Library — 941-748-5555;
▪ Braden River — 941-727-6079;
▪ Island — 941-778-6341;
▪ Palmetto — 941-722-3333;
▪ Rocky Bluff — 941-723-4821;
▪ South Manatee — 941-755-3892.
You also can access the library via the internet at mymanatee.org/library.
Bethany Stevens is a staff member at the Braden River Library. Speaking Volumes, written by Manatee County Public Library System staff members, is published each Sunday in the Bradenton Herald.