Magic, dragons, and wizarding schools—these words might conjure up images of Harry Potter, but before J. K. Rowling dominated the world of witchcraft and wizardry, Ursula K. Le Guin was investigating the power of language through a boy wizard in her novel series, The Wizard of Earthsea. Unlike Rowling, however, Le Guin’s early exploration of adolescent wizardry by no means defined her career as an author. For over five decades, she explored morality and humanity in a plethora of science fiction prose.
Le Guin passed away on January 22, 2018, at the age of 88. She left behind her more than twenty novels, and some one hundred short stories, poems, translations, and children’s books. One of today’s titans of science fiction and fantasy, Le Guin has been awarded four Nebula Awards and three Hugo Awards, among many others. She also holds the record for the most Locus Awards ever won by a single author—nineteen. She’s also a member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame. In short, if there’s an award to be won for science fiction, Le Guin has either won or been nominated for it—and for good reason.
Le Guin covered an incredible number of fascinating thematic topics in her oeuvre. If you’re interested in gender themes, try The Left Hand of Darkness, in which all inhabitants of a particular planet are androgynous. More of a dystopia or utopia fan? Her 1974 dystopian novel, The Dispossessed, can stand next to 1984 or A Brave New World in its portrayal of the dangers of utopian absolutism and late-stage capitalism. Not sure where to start? One of her greatest merits as an author is her ability to write for any audience—her Earthsea series is classified as “young adult” but is enthralling for children and adults alike.
Le Guin has Berkeley roots. She was born and raised here, the daughter of two anthropology professors. Their names may be familiar to those of you on this campus—Dr. & Dr. Kroeber are the namesakes of Kroeber Hall which houses the anthropology department. While Le Guin didn’t attend Berkeley, her books are read and taught in classes, and you can find them at the library. Whether you’re a lifelong fan or just now hearing of her, Le Guin’s novels shouldn’t be missed. You can find them all here or just check out some of the highlights: