A life in quotes: Ursula K. Le Guin
Ursula K Le Guin, award-winning fantasy and science fiction author and pioneer of feminist speculative fiction, has died age 88. Her extensive catalogue of published works includes novels, essays, poetry and children’s books.
Here are some of her most memorable quotes.
You will die. You will not live forever. Nor will any man nor any thing. Nothing is immortal. But only to us is it given to know that we must die. And that is a great gift: the gift of selfhood. For we have only what we know we must lose, what we are willing to lose… That selfhood which is our torment, and our treasure, and our humanity, does not endure. It changes it is gone, a wave on the sea. Would you have the sea grow still and the tides cease, to save one wave, to save yourself?”
— The Farthest Shore, 1972 (Earthsea Cycle #3).
It is good to have an end to journey towards; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.”
— The Left Hand of Darkness, 1969. Often misattributed to Hemingway.
If you want your writing to be taken seriously, don’t marry and have kids, and above all, don’t die. But if you have to die, commit suicide. They approve of that.”
—Prospects for Women in Writing, speech given in Portland, Oregon, 1986.
The book itself is a curious artefact, not showy in its technology but complex and extremely efficient: a really neat little device, compact, often very pleasant to look at and handle, that can last decades, even centuries. It doesn’t have to be plugged in, activated, or performed by a machine; all it needs is light, a human eye, and a human mind. It is not one of a kind, and it is not ephemeral. It lasts. It is reliable. If a book told you something when you were 15, it will tell it to you again when you’re 50, though you may understand it so differently that it seems you’re reading a whole new book.”
— Staying Awake: Notes on the alleged decline of reading, Harper’s Magazine, February 2008.
We read books to find out who we are.”
— The Language of the Night, 1979.
On the boys club of science fiction:
I can imagine myself blurbing a book in which Brian Aldis, predictably, sneers at my work, because then I could preen myself on my magnanimity. But I cannot imagine myself blurbing a book, the first of a new series and hence presumably exemplary of the series, which not only contains no writing by women, but the tone of which is so self-contentedly, exclusively male, like a club, or a locker room. That would not be magnanimity, but foolishness. Gentlemen, I just don’t belong here.”
— A letter to publisher John Radziewicz in 1987, turning down a request to blurb New Science Fiction, Volume 1.
I’d like to ask the men here to consider idly, in some spare moment, whether by any chance they’ve been building any walls to keep the women out, or to keep them in their place, and what they may have lost by doing so.”
— Speaking at AussieCon, the 33rd Worldcon science fiction convention in Melbourne, Australia, in 1975.
You cannot buy the revolution. You cannot make the revolution. You can only be the revolution. It is in your spirit, or it is nowhere.”
— The Dispossessed, 1974
It is very hard for evil to take hold of the unconsenting soul.”
— A Wizard of Earthsea, 1968. (Earthsea Cycles #1)
A recent letter in The Oregonian compares a politician’s claim to tell ‘alternative facts’ to the inventions of science fiction. The comparison won’t work. We fiction writers make up stuff. Some of it clearly impossible, some of it realistic, but none of it real – all invented, imagined — and we call it fiction because it isn’t fact. We may call some of it “alternative history” or “an alternate universe,” but make absolutely no pretense that our fictions are “alternative facts” … The test of a fact is that it simply is so – it has no “alternative”. The sun rises in the east. To pretend the sun can rise in the west is a fiction, to claim that it does so as fact (or ‘alternative fact’) is a lie.”
— A letter to the editor of The Oregonian, published 2 February 2017.
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.”
— Speech at the National Book Awards upon receiving the US National Book Foundation’s media for distinguished contribution to American Letters on 19 November 2014.
I talk about the gods, I am an atheist. But I am an artist too, and therefore a liar. Distrust everything I say. I am telling the truth.”
— The Left Hand of Darkness, 1969.
The king was pregnant.”
— The Left Hand of Darkness, 1969.
When women speak truly they speak subversively — they can’t help it: if you’re underneath, if you’re kept down, you break out, you subvert. We are volcanoes. When we women offer our experience as our truth, as human truth, all the maps change. There are new mountains. That’s what I want – to hear you erupting. You young Mount St Helenses who don’t know the power in you – I want to hear you.”
— Bryn Mawr College commencement speech, 1986, published in the essay collection Dancing At The Edge of the World: Thoughts on Words, Women, Places, 1989.
- ‘She makes the ordinary feel as important as the epic’: the gift of Ursula Le Guin
- Ursula K Le Guin: ‘I wish we could all live in a big house with unlocked doors’
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