Ursula K. Le Guin Biography


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

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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(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Ursula K. Le Guin’s best writings, notably The Left Hand of Darkness, The Dispossessed, and the Earthsea books, have become widely accepted modern classics, and Le Guin’s work is known by readers who, otherwise, read little fantasy or science fiction. Widely studied in high schools as well colleges and universities, her books are regularly the subject of doctoral dissertations. The Lathe of Heaven (1971) has been adapted to film twice, in 1979 and 2001. The first three books of the Earthsea series were adapted to film in 2005. Literary critic Harold Bloom says that her work is among the best by modern writers: “Le Guin is the overwhelming contemporary instance of a superbly imaginative creator and...

(The entire section is 122 words.)


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Ursula Kroeber was born on October 21, 1929, in Berkeley, California, the daughter of anthropologist Alfred L. Kroeber and author Theodora Kroeber. She received her B.A. from Radcliffe College in 1951 and her M.A. from Columbia University in 1952. While on a Fulbright Fellowship in Paris in 1953, she married Charles A. Le Guin. They had three children: daughters Elisabeth and Caroline and a son, Theodore. She taught French at Mercer University and the University of Idaho before settling in Portland, Oregon, in 1959. In 1962, she began publishing fantasy and science fiction. In addition to writing, she was active in the Democratic Party, in writing workshops, and in Tai Chi Chuan, a Chinese form of exercise.

(The entire section is 112 words.)


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Ursula K. Le Guin was born Ursula Kroeber, into a close, intellectual family in Berkeley, California, on October 21, 1929. Her father, Alfred Kroeber, was an anthropologist distinguished for his studies of native California tribes and was curator of the Museum of Anthropology and Ethnology of the University of California. Her mother, Theodora Krackaw Kroeber, was a respected writer with an advanced degree in psychology and a special affinity for Native American subjects and sensibilities. It was Le Guin’s father who befriended Ishi, the last survivor of the native Californian Yahi people, and it was her mother who wrote Ishi in Two Worlds (1961), an anthropological study of Ishi’s life and times, as well as the simpler popularnarrative Ishi, Last of His Tribe (1964). The interest that Le Guin’s fiction shows in communication across great barriers of culture, language, gender, and ideology is a natural offshoot of her parents’ lifelong passion for understanding worldviews other than the dominant Euro-American competitive materialism. Her use of songs, stories, folktales, maps, and depictions of material culture to flesh out fictional worlds is also congruent with her parents’ professional focus.

The Kroeber family seems to have enjoyed an enviable degree of closeness, reasonable financial security, and an abundance of intellectual stimulation. During the academic year, they lived in a large, airy house in Berkeley. Their summers were spent in their Napa Valley home, Kishamish. To these forty acres flocked writers, scholars, graduate students, relatives, and American Indians.

Living among so many people rich in knowledge and curiosity, and having access to an almost unlimited supply of books, Le Guin began writing and reading quite young. She did not discover science fiction, however, until she was twelve. When she found, while reading Lord Dunsany one day, that people were still creating myths, Le Guin felt liberated, for this discovery validated her own creative efforts.


(The entire section is 829 words.)