Vandana Singh posted this tribute on her blog; republished on Kitaab with the author’s permission.


It is difficult to put into words what I am feeling at this moment, at the death of a great writer and a great human being.  That Ursula K. Le Guin happened to have taken an interest in me and my work is part of why my grief is personal, but not entirely.  She was a generous human being and a kind mentor who took interest in the works of multiple authors, so my story of our association is, I am sure, not unique, except, perhaps, in the particularities of the interaction.  We met three times, (once for six whole days during a writing retreat), and we corresponded about a couple of times a year on average.  But in my life she had a disproportionate effect, and it is safe to say that I would not be the writer or the person I am without the deep and abiding influence of who she was and what she wrote.

So what follows is an account made somewhat incoherent by the aftershocks of grief, for which I apologize in advance.

In the great six-book saga of Earthsea, which is to modern fantasy what, perhaps, the Mahabharata is to epic literature, there are many gifts for the reader.  One of them is the landscape – so beautifully detailed in words and maps that it lives as vividly in my imagination as the great epics I first heard as a child. Another is that most of the characters in the books are brown – not in any overt way, but because it is, well, normal in that world.  That representation matters can hardly be overstated – I am thinking of Nichelle Nichols, Lieutenant Uhura of Star Trek, and how she inspired generations of African Americans to take up science, and/or the pen.  But unlike Star Trek, Le Guin went beyond tokenism to present genuinely different perspectives arising from different cultural moorings.  Her upbringing as the daughter of one of America’s most famous anthropologists, Alfred Kroeber (an experience she recounts in fascinating detail in her essay collections), enabled her to be aware of the multiple ways different social groups structure themselves and their worlds.  Eventually she was instrumental in bringing down the walls around the almost exclusively male, boys-with-toys shoot-em-up club that was golden age science fiction.

I didn’t discover her through the Earthsea series, however.  I came to her work late, in my early thirties.  I had always loved SF, having devoured, by the age of ten or eleven, Asimov, Clarke, a number of Hindi tall tales and some truly awful Tom Swift novels.  Later, there was Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, which showed me that science fiction could be literature.  But in my late teens I abandoned the genre for reasons that remained unclear to me for years.