Ursula Kroeber was born in 1929 in Berkeley, California. Her parents were the anthropologist Alfred Kroeber and the writer Theodora Kroeber, author of Ishi. She graduated from Radcliffe College and studied at Columbia University. She married Charles A. Le Guin, a historian, in Paris in 1953. They have lived in Portland, Oregon, since 1958, and they have three children and four grandchildren.
Ursula K. Le Guin writes both poetry and prose, and in various genres including realistic fiction, science fiction, fantasy, young children’s books, books for young adults, screenplays, essays, verbal texts for musicians, and voicetexts for performance or recording. She has published six books of poetry, twenty novels, over a hundred short stories (collected in eleven volumes), four collections of essays, eleven books for children, and four volumes of translation. Few American writers have done work of such high quality in such a staggering variety of forms.
Most of Le Guin’s major titles have remained continuously in print, some for over forty years. Her best known fantasy works, the first four Books of Earthsea, have sold millions of copies in America and England, and have been translated into sixteen languages. Her first major work of science fiction, The Left Hand of Darkness, is considered epoch-making for its radical investigation of gender roles and its moral and literary complexity. Her novels The Dispossessed and Always Coming Home redefine the scope and style of utopian fiction, while the realistic stories of a small Oregon beach town in Searoad show her permanent sympathy with the ordinary griefs of ordinary people. Among her books for children, the Catwings series has become a particular favorite. Her version of Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching, a translation she worked on for forty years, has received high praise.
Having taught writing workshops from Vermont to Australia, she is now retired from teaching. The annual workshop Flight of the Mind provided the impetus for a book on writing narrative, Steering the Craft.
Three of Le Guin’s books have been finalists for the American Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize, and her writings have also received a National Book Award, five Hugo Awards, five Nebula Awards, SFWA’s Grand Master, the Kafka Award, a Pushcart Prize, the Howard Vursell Award of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Los Angeles Times Robert Kirsch Award, the PEN/Malamud Award, and the Margaret A. Edwards Award.
Le Guin has taken the risk of writing seriously and with rigorous artistic control in genres some consider subliterary. Her courage has been generously rewarded: Harold Bloom includes her among his list of classic American writers, and Grace Paley, Carolyn Kizer, Gary Snyder, and John Updike have also praised her work. Many critical and academic studies of Le Guin’s work have been undertaken, including books by Elisabeth Cummins, James Bittner, B.J. Bucknall, J. De Bolt, B. Selinger, K.R. Wayne, D.R. White, an early bibliography by Elizabeth Cummins Cogell, and a continuation of the bibliography by David S. Bratman.
Le Guin leads an intensely private life, with sporadic forays into political activism and steady participation in her local literary community, particularly Oregon Public Library, Oregon Literary Arts, and the Soapstone Foundation. She limits her public appearances mostly to the West Coast.
Her most recent book is Late in the Day: Poems 2010-2014.