By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer
Groundbreaking author Ursula K. Le Guin will be featured on a postage stamp, C|Net reported. Le Guin, who died in 2018, wrote the acclaimed The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed, among others. Her work challenged stereotypes and won several awards.
According to C|Net, one of sci-fi’s most celebrated authors will be memorialized on a U.S. postage stamp in 2021. “The United States Postal Service revealed that the 33rd stamp in its Literary Arts series honors [Ursula K.] Le Guin, who increased critical and popular appreciation of sci-fi and fantasy books,” the article said. “The collectible stamp features a portrait of Le Guin by artist Donato Giancola that’s based on a 2006 photograph.
“The background shows a scene from her 1969 novel, The Left Hand of Darkness.”
Le Guin was the first woman to win a Hugo Award. Her work often featured intriguing characteristics like Taoist philosophy, genderless characters, and multiple viewpoints.
The Hainish Cycle
“The Left Hand of Darkness was the second novel ever to win both the Hugo, from the fans, and a Nebula Award, from the writers, as the best novel of the year,” said Dr. Eric Rabkin, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of English Language and Literature at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, in a lecture for The Great Courses.
“The first novel to be so honored was Dune by Frank Herbert, published just four years earlier; the third was in fact Le Guin’s own, The Dispossessed, published in 1974.”
Le Guin wrote several children’s books, but her adult novels—including the series The Hainish Cycle, which contains both The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed—remain the most groundbreaking, including The Left Hand of Darkness‘s genderfluid characters living on the frozen world Gethen.
“The unique Gethenian sexuality overtly questions our gender stereotypes,” Dr. Rabkin said. “Gethenians are all one sex. However, there comes a period, when the normally placid Gethenians become sexually heightened. If they are in the presence of someone who is already in a sexually heightened male state, their body will invert and they will form female parts and they will become very sexually active as females.”
Vice-versa happens, as well. Strange as it sounds, this device makes the reader question what it means to be gendered in our society.
The Best Laid Plans
Another example of Le Guin’s noteworthy oeuvre is The Lathe of Heaven, published in 1971.
“In this novel, our two main characters are a psychiatrist and his patient,” Dr. Rabkin said. “The psychiatrist has the insight that the patient is accomplishing something with his dreams that the patient doesn’t realize: It seems that when the patient dreams, the world conforms to his dreams, and when he awakens, he awakens into a world in which everyone simply takes that world to be the normal world.”
The psychiatrist, while trying to coax the patient to dream the world into a better place, finds things worsening at every turn, with unintended consequences arising regardless of best intentions.
These dynamic characters and situations brought intrigue and complexity to her work. Her handling of weighty anthropological issues helped cement her reputation as a legendary science fiction author. She will be remembered and studied for years to come.
This article contains material taught by Dr. Eric S. Rabkin. Dr. Rabkin is the Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of English Language and Literature at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. He earned his bachelor’s degree at Cornell University and his PhD at The University of Iowa.