Ursula K. Le Guin has never been on any list of my favorite writers or writerly influences, but she has is both of those. I have read embarrassingly little of her work, if for no other reason than I am that stubborn sort of person who the more you tell me I should do a thing, the less likely I am to do it.
My first year at Smith College, I read The Left Hand of Darkness for my scifi/spec fic class. You’re supposed to declare a major in your sophomore year, and I had no idea what I would do. English, the obvious choice as a writer, was not an option, since I’ve always loathed essays. (One of my writer friends tells me I was just never taught how to do write them the fun way.) I might have daydreamed about pursuing theatre, but I knew I wasn’t good enough (and back then I really wasn’t; I wouldn’t learn how to be completely comfortable in my own skin for years). Linguistics would have made me deliriously happy, but that required self-design and classes on other campuses in the Five College Consortium, and I wasn’t sure I had the drive to effectively handle that workload.
It maybe would have helped if I’d developed any career goals beyond “fantasy writer.”
The Left Hand of Darkness blew my mind, and the professor discussed Ursula Le Guin’s background in anthropology. Both of her parents were anthropologists, and that education greatly enriched the stories she was able to tell.
That same semester, I was taking a cultural anthropology course and loving it. So I made a deal with myself: if I got a good grade in the class, I’d major in that. And I did.
Cultural anthropology did, in fact, turn out to be a phenomenal course of study for a fantasy writer.
But even before college and The Left Hand of Darkness, some of the first books I read on my own and my favorites for years as a young child were the Catwings books. I rarely, if ever, see those books mentioned in discussions of her work. To this day, I cannot fully wrap my mind around how deeply and thoroughly those stories affected me as both a reader and writer.
In all the many roles she filled for countless people, I can only say that I would not be the writer I am today without her. RIP Ursula K. Le Guin. Thank you.