Ursula K Le Guin is an American author who has written novels, children's books, poetry, short stories and essays.
Most of her work has been written within the fantasy and science fiction genres and she has won many awards for her work, including five Hugo Awards, 6 Nebula Awards, 19! Locus Awards (more than any other author), the National Book Award for Children's Books, the Gandalf Grand Master Award and has become the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America Grand Master in 2003.
Ursula K Le Guin has a number of running themes through her works, there is often a strong emphasis on the social sciences, including sociology and anthropology and she explores ideas of race, religion and ecology with intelligence and a clear, plain speaking approach. A number of her science fiction novels are set within the "Hanish Cycle", detailing a Galactic civilisation in the future.
Ursula LeGuin would never describe herself as a feminist author. Yet her novel "The Left Hand of Darkness" has argueably become a part of the canon of feminist literature. It is also one of the few science fiction novels that could be considered feminist. Why has this book generated so much theoretical interest?
The answer lies in her treatment of gender within the novel. The plot of this book seems simple, as it is primarily a story of the quest of two people to reach a destination (forgive me but its been ages since I've actually read this book). What causes the commotion is the fact that the inhabitants of this distant clime manifest different sex organs during biological cycles. LeGuin uses the genre of sci-fi to examine what it exactly means to be male or female and challenges us to envision a society where sex and reproductive capacities constantly change. The twist is that the protagonist is a human male who must reconcile is primarily platonic frienship with his guide during the sexual cycles of this guide.
Though it is clear LeGuin did not intend for this theme to cause such a fuss in the academic world of women's studies, its accessibility and uniqueness make it a much more preferable read than more tedious tomes of women's literature. If I had to teach a class on women's literature, LeGuin would certainly be at the top of my list because it challenges our notions of gender without being preachy or having an overtly feminist agenda (which tends to devalue works that are self-consciously feminist).
The trouble with having an open mind, of course, is that people will insist on coming along and trying to put things in it.
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