It's somewhat commonplace to talk about authors as "giants" in their field. Ursula K. Le Guin was, instead, a volcano. Le Guin's words on writing, technology, sexuality and sisterhood, race, capitalism, and justice reverberated through the literary world, enriching the debate even as she singlehandedly overturned old and musty ways of thinking through her fiction and nonfiction.
Le Guin was born in California in 1929. Among her earliest published novels was A Wizard of Earthsea (1968), book one of her multibook Earthsea cycle aimed primarily at young adults and is often readers' first encounter with Le Guin's storytelling. She won the Hugo and Nebula Awards for both The Left Hand of Darkness (1969) and The Dispossessed (1975), cementing her reputation as a writer who seamlessly melded her imagination with metaphors about society, relationships, hierarchy, and integrity.
Le Guin was very aware of how she used fiction to bring new ideas to people's attention. As she wrote in her foreword to The Left Hand of Darkness, "In reading a novel, any novel, we know perfectly well that the whole thing is nonsense, and then, while reading, believe every word of it. Finally, when we are done with it, we may find—if it's a good novel—that we're a bit different from what we were before we read it, that we have been changed a little, as if by having met a new face, crossed a street we never crossed before."
In 2014, Ursula K. Le Guin was awarded the National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, a capstone to a lifetime's worth of literary awards. The following year, the Amazon Books editors included three of Le Guin's books on our list of 100 Science Fiction and Fantasy Books to Read in a Lifetime. Only J.R.R. Tolkien had more titles on the list.
Le Guin spent more and more time in her later years writing essays and other nonfiction. Her most recent work is No Time to Spare: Thinking about What Matters, a collection of her sharp-eyed observations about science fiction, aging, the Internet, truth-seeking, and so much more.
Ursula K. Le Guin passed away on January 22, 2018, at age 88 in Portland, Oregon, in what her family described as a "peaceful death."