Ursula K. Le Guin, who wrote popular science fiction and fantasy books from a feminist perspective, died on Monday at the age of 88.
Speaking to Fresh Air's Terry Gross in 1989, Le Guin said she initially began writing science fiction because it was the one genre she knew she could sell. "It's how I broke into publishing," she said. Le Guin went on to write more than 20 novels, including The Left Hand of Darkness and the Earthsea series. She also wrote poetry, short stories and essays about feminism and other social issues. Le Guin is credited with helping to bring the science-fiction genre into a more literary — and feminist — realm.
"There was a whole generation of science-fiction/fantasy writers that I kind of came in with," she said. "Both men and women, I would say, were more interested in people, in the human element of these stories. They kind of humanized science fiction."
On what inspired her 1969 novel, The Left Hand of Darkness, about "ambisexual" beings who switch genders
I wrote it in 1967, which is really when I think feminism was kind of beginning to come alive again and people were asking questions like, "What is the difference between men and women? How much is biological? How much is cultural?" and so on, all those questions.
And one way to ask those questions — my way of doing it, mainly — is to write a novel about it and sort of set up a situation in which women turn into men [who then] turn into women monthly, as it were, and see what happens.
On how characters switched genders in the book These people most of the time are actually neuter. They're not sexually active. Once a month you, as they call it, "go into kemmer," and at that point you become either a man or a woman. You are physiologically gendered and you take on sexuality. Your sexual drive becomes very intense, and if you're with somebody who is already going into kemmer as the other sex, you're likely to be the other sex — they trigger the opposites, but not always.
So the point is that you can be the father of a child one month and then get pregnant the next, which obviously would make certain changes in society.
On disproving the notion that women can't be mothers and do creative work at the same time
I feel a certain obligation to sort of stand up and be counted as a woman who has had kids and brought them up, and also done creative work, which — particularly in the arts — there does seem to be almost a sort of agreement that this can't be done. ...
The fact is, creative work has replaced having a family for some women. That's fine. Having a family has replaced creative work for other women. That's fine. Then there are some of us who really need to do both and are perfectly capable of doing both.
Another thing that I've found ... [is that] women who write, who have children, their work tends to get "disappeared." They're not quite respectable. The few women who are counted part of the great canon of English literature tend to be childless and often unmarried. ... I have to say, the men seem to prefer it that way.
On how being a mother ultimately enriched her writing
There is a time during one's life when, if you are responsible for the care of your kids, it is very hard to do other creative work. You have to do it around the edges, in the middle of the night, or you never can get up before your kids, so it's usually late at night. Or, if you have the money, you hire some kind of baby sitter or some kind of child care.
It's hard. Your energy, your creative energies are being spread thin and strained. On the other hand, you are living an extremely rich life at the same time. And this is going to enrich your work, inevitably, I think. It may not seem so at the time, but ... babies don't stay babies for very long, whereas writers live for decades. You do outlive your babies.
Seth Kelley produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Bridget Bentz, Molly Seavy-Nesper and Nicole Cohen adapted it for the Web. Copyright 2019 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.