Ursula Kroeber Le Guin was born in Berkeley, California, on October 21, 1929. Her mother, Theodora Kroeber, had a graduate degree in psychology, and Le Guin’s father, Alfred Kroeber, was a well-known anthropologist. Le Guin and her three older brothers, Karl, Theodore, and Clifford, grew up in a household that placed strong emphasis on reading.
Le Guin’s father taught at the University of California at Berkeley, where the family spent the academic year. With the arrival of summer, they would move to Kishamish, their forty-acre estate in the Napa Valley. Le Guin spent much time exploring this area with her brothers, which is perhaps why so many of her novels include journeys by foot. Summer guests at Kishamish included intellectual celebrities such as Robert Oppenheimer as well as anthropology scholars. Le Guin’s exposure to anthropology dates from before she could read, as her father often told his children stories about the local Native Americans.
Le Guin’s reading was not confined to anthropology, however, for she read all genres available to her, ranging from the romantic works of Lord Dunsany to the Taoist writings of the legendary seventh century Chinese figure Laozi, whom she read while still in her teens. In 1951, she completed a B.A., Phi Beta Kappa, in French and Italian, with an emphasis on Renaissance literature, at Harvard University’s Radcliffe College. She completed her M.A. at Columbia University in 1952, and then began a doctoral program at Columbia. In Paris, in December, 1953, she ended doctoral study and married Charles Le Guin, a history professor whom she had met on shipboard, while traveling to France for a year of Fulbright-supported study.
The end of Le Guin’s doctoral aspirations proved to be the beginning of her career as a writer. Her mother had begun a writing career in middle-age; her Ishi in Two Worlds (1961) appeared a year after the death of Le Guin’s father. Le Guin began writing much younger, producing her first fantasy story at age nine. Her first science-fiction story was rejected by a magazine when she was eleven, and she waited ten years before submitting another. With her marriage,...
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