Symposium will celebrate the life and work of Ursula K. Le Guin

Ursula K. LeGuin (Photo: Jack Liu)

Scholars, luminaries and fans of speculative fiction will gather at the University of Oregon when it hosts a two-day symposium dedicated to the life and work of Ursula K. Le Guin Dec. 2 and 3. 

The the event — the second James Tiptree Jr. Symposium — will be held in the UO’s Straub Hall, and it is free and open to the public. View the full schedule of events and speakers online.

Ursula K. Le Guin is a poet, essayist, critic, translator and storyteller. Her writing combines perspectives from anthropology, feminism, science, history, utopian thought and Taoist philosophy wrapped up in narratives of exploration and self-discovery. Critics have often found it difficult to classify her work. While some consider her writing to be science fiction or fantasy, the author herself discounts any narrow genre categorizations. She has also been publicly outspoken in her advocacy of issues ranging from environmental stewardship to fairness and transparency in the bookselling industry.

The Library of America has recently inaugurated an edition of Le Guin’s works — a rare honor for a living writer. In his introduction to the first volume, scholar Brian Attebery, one of the symposium's keynote speakers, writes: “In a career spanning half a century, Ursula K. Le Guin has produced a body of work that testifies to her abiding faith in the power and art of words. She is perhaps best known for imagining future intergalactic worlds in brilliant books that challenge our ideas of what is natural and inevitable in human relations — and that celebrate courage, endurance, risk-taking and above all, freedom in the face of the psychological and social forces that lead to authoritarianism and fanaticism.”

In addition to scholars and researchers, symposium panelists include the authors Suzy McKee Charnas, Karen Joy Fowler, Molly Gloss, Vonda McIntyre, Debbie Notkin and Julie Phillips. UO students also will discuss their scholarship in feminist science fiction, and there will be a screening of the trailer for Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin, filmmaker Arwen Curry’s forthcoming documentary.

Le Guin has won every major award in the field of speculative literature, including multiple Hugo, Nebula, Locus, James Tiptree Jr. and World Fantasy awards. The Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame inducted her in 2001, and the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America named her its 20th Grand Master in 2003.

Le Guin has also received the Pushcart Prize, the PEN/Malamud Award and the National Book Award for Children’s Books. Her work also has been shortlisted for the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize.

In 2000 the U.S. Library of Congress named her a Living Legend for her significant contributions to America’s cultural heritage. In 2014, Le Guin was awarded the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters by the National Book Foundation.

Le Guin, honoree of this year’s Tiptree Symposium, plans to attend the events on Friday, Dec. 2. However, due to recent health issues, she will not be able to sign books.

Le Guin has lived in Portland since 1959. The UO Libraries holds her papers in its special collections, and an exhibit of photographs and collection materials from the Ursula K. Le Guin Papers will be on display in Special Collections & University Archives at Knight Library.

“Feminist science fiction is exceptionally well represented in our holdings of primary source materials,” said Linda Long, the UO's manuscripts librarian, who has planned the symposium. “Since she first began depositing her materials in our special collections in 1980, Ursula K. Le Guin’s papers have been a major cornerstone in our developing those collections.”

Another legendary speculative fiction author whose papers now reside with the UO Libraries is Alice Bradley Sheldon, who died in 1987 and was known by the pen name James Tiptree Jr. Tiptree, a pioneer in the exploration of gender and sexuality in science fiction, is the namesake of the library’s symposium. She was a longtime letter-writing friend of Le Guin.

Co-sponsors include the UO Libraries, Oregon Humanities Center, College Scholars Program, Comics and Cartoon Studies, Department of English, Department of Anthropology, Folklore Program, and Center for the Study of Women in Society.

Those with questions can contact Long at 541-346-1906, llong@uoregon.edu