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Remembering Ursula Le Guin, Queen of Sass

A publisher asked Ursula Le Guin to blurb an anthology with no women writers. Her response is excellent.

2014 National Book Awards
Ursula Le Guin at the 2014 National Book Awards.
Photo by Robin Marchant/Getty Images
Constance Grady is a senior correspondent on the Culture team for Vox, where since 2016 she has covered books, publishing, gender, celebrity analysis, and theater.

Legendary science fiction writer Ursula Le Guin, who died on Monday, was always Queen of Sass.

Le Guin made some headlines in 2015 when she informed Kazuo Ishiguro that watching his press tour for The Buried Giant "was like watching a man falling from a high wire while he shouts to the audience, ‘Are they going say I’m a tight-rope walker?’" (Ishiguro had just given an interview in which he worried aloud that readers would think his latest book was fantasy, and that such a perception would trap him in the genre ghetto; Le Guin responded that if it was fantasy, it was bad fantasy.)

And in 2016, More Letters of Note, Shaun Usher's most recent collection of important letters written by important people, unearthed another classic Le Guin smackdown. In 1971 she was asked to blurb Synergy: New Science Fiction, Volume 1, the first of a four-volume anthology series that aimed to publish "the most innovative, thought-provoking, speculative fiction ever." Le Guin was less than amused by the request:

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

You can check out Le Guin’s immaculate signature, plus more from More Letters of Note, at the Guardian.

Update: This article has been updated to note Le Guin's death in 2018.

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