Ursula K. Le Guin, award-winning science fiction writer, has died at 88

The works of author Ursula K. Le Guin, seen in 2008, spanned genres.
(Benjamin Reed / For the Times)
Books Editor

Acclaimed science-fiction author Ursula K. Le Guin died Monday in her hometown of Portland, Ore., her agent confirmed. Le Guin was 88.

Although best known for her science fiction — particularly the Earthsea series — Le Guin was a creative, curious writer whose more than two dozen books encompassed fiction, poetry, essays, criticism, children’s books, works of translation, fantasy and even blogging.

Le Guin was born Oct. 21, 1929, the daughter of Alfred Louis Kroeber, an acclaimed anthropologist who recorded Native American oral histories, and Theodora Kroeber, who penned the widely read book about a California Indian, “Ishi in Two Worlds.”


She was raised in Berkeley, got her undergraduate degree at Radcliffe followed by a master’s degree at Columbia in French and Italian literature and then earned a Fulbright scholarship that took her to France. It was there that she met her husband, Charles Le Guin. Together they settled in Portland, Ore.

Le Guin published her first book, “Rocannon’s World,” in 1966. It was followed in 1968 by “A Wizard of Earthsea,” a fantasy novel that cemented her reputation and launched her most famous series, which ultimately included six books.

“I love concrete facts, whether they’re real or invented,” she told The Times in 1985. “Part of the grip of fantasy is the day-to-day realism of the story.”

Le Guin was awarded the 1972 National Book Award for children’s literature for “The Farthest Shore.” In her speech, given at the 1973 award ceremony, she used her time to emphasize the seriousness of science fiction and fantasy. “Sophisticated readers are accepting the fact that an improbable and unmanageable world is going to produce an improbable and hypothetical art,” she said. “At this point, realism is perhaps the least adequate means of understanding or portraying the incredible realities of our existence.”

She often found herself making this argument. Finding herself among a cohort that included Gene Wolfe and Philip K. Dick, Le Guin explained to The Times in 1985 that “we were expressing serious concerns through the metaphors of science fiction and fantasy, as Tolkien did.” She added, “In the days of flowerdom we were going to make the future better. Instead of a cold, sterile futuristic place full of ‘Star Wars,’ there was a feeling for a while of making the world more livable, more human. My kind of science-fiction writer fit right into this.”

When asked to express her thoughts about Steven Spielberg’s “E.T.,” Le Guin stuck out her tongue. She hadn’t seen it.


Along with the National Book Award, she also received the Hugo Award, the Nebula and many other honors.

LeGuin’s most recent book, “No Time to Spare: Thinking About What Matters,” was published in December. It collected posts from her blog — and stories about her cat.

Yet Le Guin shied away from cuteness. When the National Book Foundation honored her with the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters in 2014, she took the stage and criticized the audience. “Books, you know, they’re not just commodities,” she told the room full of major publishers. “The profit motive often is in conflict with the aims of art.”