Ursula LeGuin's most powerful quotes on life, love, and stories

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Emily Reynolds
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From love to life, storytelling to politics, writer Ursula Le Guin has long been full of wisdom and good advice. To celebrate her life, here’s our pick of her most moving quotes.

Writer Ursula Le Guin, has died, aged 88 – and the tributes have poured in. 

Writers including Neil Gaiman, Hank Green and Helen MacDonald have paid tribute to the writer, who sold millions of books worldwide and was praised for her nuanced and complex explorations of gender, bodies and trauma in her many books. 

To celebrate her life, we’ve collected some of her most moving, poignant and profound quotes.

On gender

Dear Mr Radziewicz,

I can imagine myself blurbing a book in which Brian Aldiss, predictably, sneers at my work, because then I could preen myself on my magnanimity. But I cannot imagine myself blurbing a book, the first of a new series and hence presumably exemplary of the series, which not only contains no writing by women, but the tone of which is so self-contentedly, exclusively male, like a club, or a locker room. That would not be magnanimity, but foolishness. Gentlemen, I just don’t belong here.

Yours truly,

Ursula K. Le Guin

“If you want your writing to be taken seriously, don’t marry and have kids, and above all, don’t die. But if you have to die, commit suicide. They approve of that.”
Prospects for Women in Writing, speech given in Portland, Oregon, 1986.

“I’d like to ask the men here to consider idly, in some spare moment, whether by any chance they’ve been building any walls to keep the women out, or to keep them in their place, and what they may have lost by doing so.”
— Speaking at AussieCon in 1975.

“When women speak truly they speak subversively — they can’t help it: if you’re underneath, if you’re kept down, you break out, you subvert. We are volcanoes. When we women offer our experience as our truth, as human truth, all the maps change. There are new mountains. That’s what I want – to hear you erupting. You young Mount St Helenses who don’t know the power in you – I want to hear you.”
— Bryn Mawr College commencement speech, 1986

On revolution

“You cannot buy the revolution. You cannot make the revolution. You can only be the revolution. It is in your spirit, or it is nowhere.”
The Dispossessed, 1974

“Books, you know, they’re not just commodities. The profit motive often is in conflict with the aims of art. We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art—the art of words.”
– National Book Awards, November 2014

On love

“A profound love between two people involves, after all, the power and chance of doing profound hurt.”
The Left Hand of Darkness (1969)

“What you love, you will love. What you undertake you will complete. You are a fulfiller of hope; you are to be relied on. To refuse death is to refuse life.”
– The Farthest Shore (1972)

On art

“The artist deals in what cannot be said in words. The artist whose medium is fiction does this in words. The novelist says in words what cannot be said in words.”
– Introduction to The Left Hand of Darkness (1976)

“All of us have to learn how to invent our lives, make them up, imagine them. We need to be taught these skills; we need guides to show us how. If we don’t, our lives get made up for us by other people.”
–  The Wave in the Mind: Talks and Essays on the Writer, the Reader, and the Imagination (2004)


“A writer is a person who cares what words mean, what they say, how they say it. Writers know words are their way towards truth and freedom, and so they use them with care, with thought, with fear, with delight. By using words well they strengthen their souls. Story-tellers and poets spend their lives learning that skill and art of using words well. And their words make the souls of their readers stronger, brighter, deeper.”
A Few Words to a Young Writer (2008)

Images: Getty 


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Emily Reynolds

Emily Reynolds is a journalist and author based in London. Her first book, A Beginner’s Guide to Losing Your Mind, came out in February 2017 with Hodder & Stoughton. She is currently working on her second.