it is Ursula Kroeber Le Guin’s birthday

Ursula K. Le Guin seated and turned toward the camera with a peaceful smile

It is October 21, 2023 — ninety-three years after Ursula was born. It is five years and nine months tomorrow since she passed from this world into her next.

There is a kind of tragedy in discovering an all-encompassing love for someone’s work mere months after they have died and are no longer easily available to perhaps meet, or at least see in person. I was in Portland, Oregon about two years after her death date, and I went into Powell’s Books because that’s what you do when you visit Portland, Oregon, and I realized that she had been in that exact building and spoken to people there and signed books while there and talked about her writing in that space. The walls there hold her voice, among many others.

I have owned several of her books in used paperback editions for over a decade now, probably longer. I bought them because I felt like I needed to, but I never read them because it wasn’t time yet. I didn’t have these feelings consciously. It was more like an undercurrent of some kind of understanding that I am grateful for. Time loops back on itself and away in profoundly infinitesimal ways.

I wish the right timing had been while she was still alive, but I think I can be okay with this timing instead.

I read her books the way that I used to read the Christian Bible when I was a young person: sometimes chapters at a time, sometimes paragraphs, sometimes flipping back to find the sentences that hit my heart just so.

Ursula K Le Guin’s words are more profound to me than I can accurately describe. They are like water, like oxygen, like pearls of wisdom, like a living thread winding its way into my heart and soul and changing, a little at a time, how I understand who I am, what the world might be, and what my power is and could be.

I don’t have a favorite book. The first one I read was The Dispossessed, and it threw my entire brain for a loop. I have not stopped thinking about it in those times when thoughts consume me. I read Rocannon’s World and still have not emotionally recovered. I am still reading the Earthsea books because they are so profound that I am moved to tears every few chapters and I have to rest for a while and treasure the reasons I was so moved.

When I was unpacking the rest of my things from our last move, I found three books I didn’t remember that I had, those paperbacks I mentioned —

The Beginning Place,
The Left Hand of Darkness,
and Malafrena.

Each one I unearthed from a box of cherished books was like a tuning fork striking my bones, ever so gently. She has been with me for much longer than I thought, and I have to believe that I did the right true thing by waiting to read until it was time.

I have been sharing some quotes from her various works — I have not read them all yet, but what a beautiful part of my personal future to look forward to — in a thread on the fediverse. Rather than list them all here, here is a link to the beginning of the thread and you can read whatever you want to from there.

an ancestor of spirit

In my tradition, I am learning to honor not just my ancestors of blood, but also ancestors of spirit. People whose impact on the world has had a meaningful, felt impact on us. I don’t know what it’s like for the others in my coven or the others around the world who are learning and living the same things.

What I can say for my own experience is that Ursula’s influence on me is specific and it is also in a way numinous. Between Ursula and Octavia Butler, I was not just radicalized — I was changed. Other authors that I love have helped me to find and grapple with truths about how to live in the world that we have, in the best ways that I can. Ursula, with Octavia, have shown me what completely different ways of living that there are. They showed me (and are showing me) that this is not the only way of being here. I can imagine the shape of a people and a world who are deeply interconnected because of them.

Ursula’s writing touches on many of the truths I am working to learn in the tradition in which I am studying, which adds a layer of spiritual experience to my interactions with it. I look more closely for understanding, and I examine the words to see what they might mean and I try to see what I might be missing.

If I was allowed to have only one book for the rest of my life, I believe that I could read A Wizard of Earthsea over and over and find something else to know each time.

Ursula K. Le Guin 1929-2018

The copyeditor used a red pen. Ursula a pencil. Pencil and pen had agreed and disagreed on this manuscript, which Ursula had handed over just a week before. We’d emailed about blurbs just days before. Everything seemed as it should. It was now my turn to chime in where Ursula and the copyeditor disagreed. I was in the midst of doing just that when I learned she’d passed away.

More than a week has gone by and I still haven’t been able to do my part. I read tributes to her by the greats — Gaiman, Atwood, Walton — finding myself without words.

I look again at Ursula’s — her enthusiastic yes!, her matter-of-fact I disagree. In these gestures I see how fully present she is, how completely she attends to the task at hand, and I realize that nothing is too small to contain the whole world, to bring forth Ursula’s powerful, opinionated, captivating self. The same Ursula who took on Google and Amazon on behalf of writers, who took on a boy’s club in science fiction and fantasy, who now insisted the word Earth — the planet, our planet — should begin with a capitalized “E.”

She attended to the big and small in the same way, as part of the same fabric. Realizing this, I’ve tried to do the same, ministering to language as she herself would’ve done. I’m still grieving the dream of launching this book with Ursula, us together blessing its journey. I would’ve been grateful to partake in any project of hers, but I’m particularly honored to be a part of this one, one of the last of her long, remarkable life.

Among the many things that made Ursula stand out as a writer, was how she imagined we could live a better future. It’s up to us now, to imagine the world we want, to create the language that reflects it, to honor Ursula by honoring the Earth she has attended to so well.

David Naimon, February 1, 2018, before the introduction to “Conversations on Writing” by Ursula K. Le Guin with David Naimon

Please visit Ursula K. Le Guin’s website, look for her books in libraries and local bookstores, at yard sales and thrift shops, watch her deliver her acceptance speech of The National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters [this page on her website gives the transcript].

Please continue to create with all of us the kind of world we want to live in with one another.


featured image is a publicity photo courtesy Euan Monaghan/Structo

Nix Kelley
Co-parent to multiple kids. Writer. Death doula. Member of the Order of the Good Death. Seeker on the Path of Light. Queer, non-binary, & trans.


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