Today, one of my personal literary heroes summed up perfectly something I have been struggling to articulate–about this blog, about science fiction, and in particular apocalypse fiction, about writers and artists in general. About why we are the ones that will save the world.
I think that hard times are coming when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now and can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine some real grounds for hope. We will need writers who can remember freedom.
Ursula K. LeGuin
I can’t remember the first time I read Le Guin’s work. Perhaps it was college, in a sci-fi lit class–The Left Hand of Darkness–the only book written by a woman that we read. What I do remember, distinctly, viscerally, was what that book did to me. Beyond the writing, which was stunning, beyond the setting, which was amazing, beyond completely changed the way I looked at gender. And it was this: it opened a door that I didn’t even know had been closed–a door through which I might some day become not just a writer, but a science fiction writer.
She was the first in my triumvirate of strong women sci-fi warriors: Le Guin, Butler, Atwood. In each case, it still astonishes me that it took me so long to find them. In each case, I am incredibly grateful that I did. Within each, I found not just a universe of amazing stories, but dreamers, teachers, activists, and more. And so, of course I was overjoyed to learn that yesterday, author Neil Gaiman presented Ursula Le Guin with a National Book Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award:
In recognition of her transformative impact on American literature, Ursula K. Le Guin is the 2014 recipient of the Foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. She is the Foundation’s twenty-seventh awardmore than forty years, Le Guin has defied conventions of narrative, language, character, and genre, as well as transcended the boundaries between fantasy and realism, to forge new paths for literary fiction.
Among the nation’s most revered writers of science fiction and fantasy, Le Guin’s fully imagined worlds challenge readers to consider profound philosophical and existential questions about gender, race, the environment, and society. Her boldly experimental and critically acclaimed novels, short stories, and children’s books, written in elegant prose, are popular with millions of readers around the world.
National Book Foundation press release
LeGuin is one of 9 women and only two science fiction authors to win this award which began in 1988. The other was Ray Bradbury (2000).*
Here is her acceptance speech.
* I also want to give a nod to Stephen King who, though he is considered a horror writer, has made forays into the realm of apocalypse fiction and therefore walks the borderlands adjacent to science fiction. He won the award in 2003.