Social Sciences

Queen of Fantasy

Symposium honors science fiction great Ursula Le Guin

The New York Times calls her “America’s greatest living science fiction writer.” She prefers, simply, “an American novelist.”

That’s Portland author Ursula Le Guin, 87, honored at a two-day campus symposium recently for, as organizers put it, “ceaselessly challenging our expectations about words, women and places.”

Faculty panelists explored Le Guin’s contributions to feminist science fiction or SF, which reflects themes of sociology, anthropology and humanities. Her main characters are often people of color and her writing uses alien cultures to examine human culture.

Edmond Chang, of women’s and gender studies, dissected The Word for World Is Forest, in which a peaceful culture is introduced to mass violence. Ben Saunders, of English, led a discussion with comic book writer Kelly Sue DeConnick on the future of feminist SF. Panelists also showed that Le Guin’s Left Hand of Darkness, published in 1969, introduced ideas about gender that scholars only began to devote attention to decades later.


Photo credit: Marian Wood Kolisch