If you're an Ursula Le Guin fan, you can rest assured that her work will live on forever — or at least as long as the durable volumes of the Library of America last. That's right: The Library of America is inaugurating an Ursula Le Guin collection this September. And the book they're starting with may surprise you.
The Library of America is a nonprofit dedicated to curating, showcasing, and preserving the greatest examples of American writing; indeed, today, they're recognized as "the definitive collection of American writing." And even if you've never heard of them, you'd probably recognize their books — they're those distinctive hardbacks with black covers and the thin band of red, white, and blue stripes along the middle. Each copy is designed to last for generations, preserving American writing for decades to come.
In the past, they've published authors such as Mark Twain, Herman Melville, Zora Neale Hurston, and Isaac Bashevis Singer — and now Ursula Le Guin joins the list.
Although Le Guin is most recognized for her work in the science fiction and fantasy genre, the Library of America will be publishing one of her lesser-known works, a series of stories about a fictitious Eastern European country called Orsinia. The Complete Orsinia, which includes stories about the made-up country going as far back as the 12th century, isn't as popularly known as Le Guin's classic sci-fi, which the Library of America originally intended to publish. But Le Guin felt strongly that this was the work she wanted to showcase.
“There’s some innate arrogance here: I want to do it my way,” Le Guin told the New York Times in an interview at her home. “I don’t want to be reduced to being ‘the sci-fi writer.’ People are always trying to push me off the literary scene, and to hell with it. I won’t be pushed.”
Le Guin's frustration is shared by many writers who work in so-called "genre" fiction. There's a tendency in the literary world to see works that fall under the category of science fiction or fantasy or romance or mystery or thrillers as somehow of inherently lower literary value. And when you get a book that appears to qualify as both literary fiction and an example of "genre fiction" — like, say, Oryx and Crake, American Gods, or Gone Girl — the literary world tries to divorce it from one or the other. And sometimes, authors even try to do that themselves.
However, many, many writers working within a defined genre are also writing what is and should be considered highly literary work — case in point, Ursula Le Guin. Le Guin has been writing for decades, and has received numerous awards for her work; even so, though, she is still usually classified as science-fiction, not as literature — as if the two can only be mutually exclusive.
“I published as a genre writer when genre was not literature,” Le Guin said. “I paid the price, you could say. Don DeLillo, who comes off as literary without question, takes the award over me because I published in genre and he didn’t. Also, he’s a man and I’m a woman.” Both Le Guin and DeLillo were up for the National Book Award in 1985, for Always Coming Home and White Noise, respectively; DeLillo won.
Thank goodness the Library of America is now giving Le Guin some of the recognition she deserves. In the past, they have collected volumes of crime fiction or sci-fi of "fantastic tales" from particular eras, but Le Guin is one of the few speculative fiction writers to have had a solo work in their collection — even though the book being released is much more realistic than most of her works.
The Complete Orsinia will be released from Library of America on Sept. 6.