Ursula K. LeGuin has died.
I won’t recount her many works or the impact she had on speculative fiction in her long career as a writer. That information can be found in the obituary linked above, and elsewhere.
No, this is a personal memorial. For of all writers, I believe Ursula K. Le Guin’s impact on me has been the most profound.
She dared to ask subversive questions. What if there were no gender? What if people in wealthy societies were required to confront the suffering that supports them? What if human society successfully integrated technology and rich culture and environmental sustainability?
What if…what if…what if.
She wrote with such a depth of humanity, such an unflinching moral lens, and such playfulness. Her characters breathed and grew; her worlds delighted and terrified. She had an eye for emotional detail and a vision that sprawled across Universes.
Daughter of the famed anthropology Alfred Kroeber (whose compassionate friendship with the California Native man “Ishi” was itself a ground-breaking study in humanity), she understood that “normal” is a cultural spectrum, and culture can be a powerful driver for change.
She reminded us that history is long, and even what we think may be unshakable can, indeed, be shaken:
“We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art, the art of words.”
Le Guin’s writing was an early inspiration to me to care about justice and work for a better world: not only politically, but culturally. The two main things I have done in my life that I hope will have lasting impact are the founding and leadership (for its first ten years) of an effective local environmental organization–still going strong in year 27–and my work to articulate, collaborate in developing, and spread the word about Atheopaganism.
Both are consistent with the vision, humanity, and values that Ms. Le Guin so brilliantly embodied in her work. Her work provoked me, instructed me, warmed and moved me.
It is dark tonight in Orsinia, and I am sad.
I will miss her terribly.