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Contributor Spotlight on Ursula K. Le Guin

by Dan Froid

What do you get for the woman who has everything? The National Book Foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, perhaps. Ursula K. Le Guin, author of science-fiction and fantasy novels, children’s books, short stories, poetry, and essays—and winner of a slew of additional awards and prizes—received one of American literature’s highest honors in November. The Foundation recognized Le Guin for “[defying] conventions of narrative, language, character, and genre, as well as transcend[ing] the boundaries between fantasy and realism, to forge new paths for literary fiction . . . Le Guin’s fully imagined worlds challenge readers to consider profound philosophical and existential questions about gender, race, the environment, and society.” Watch the video of the ceremony here—Neil Gaiman presents Le Guin with the medal. Her acceptance speech, in which she criticizes publishers that value profit above art, enjoyed an enthusiastic reception the night of the ceremony and has practically gone viral. Read the text of her speech here.

Most of us probably recognize Le Guin for her novels, including the Earthsea fantasy series, which began with A Wizard of Earthsea in 1968, and her science-fiction cycle, which includes the Hugo and Nebula Award-winning The Left Hand of Darkness. Le Guin also publishes shorter works widely—including within the pages of Prairie Schooner. Her poem “Hymn to Aphrodite” features in our new themed issue, “Women and the Global Imagination”:

Venus solis occasus orientisque, Dea pacifica,
foam-borne, implacable, tender:
war and storm serve you, and you wear
the fiery tiara of the volcanoes.
The young salmon swimming downriver
and the old upstream to breed and die
are yours, and the fog-drinking forests.

To read the rest, check out our winter 2014 issue, available this month.

For more with Le Guin, check out this recent interview with Laura Miller on Salon, where she talks genre, gender, and publishing—and where Le Guin also discloses that Lavinia (2008) is probably her last novel—and The Paris Review’s 2013 “Art of Fiction” interview with her. She also maintains a comprehensive website.