Ursula K. Le Guin was an American writer whose  literary career spanned almost sixty years. Over that duration, she wrote over twenty novels, one hundred short stories and countless other pieces of literary criticism, poetry, children’s books and translations. With an anthropologist’s eye, Le Guin constantly sought to upset the norms of the literary world by highlighting themes of race, gender, sexuality and coming of age at a time when these themes were still very much anathema. She was often experimental with her style, using form as a device with which to mirror both content and context. Le Guin is often mentioned as a writer “ahead of her time”, as she helped start a movement in American fiction that would go on to find its shape as Science Fiction. She preferred to be referred to as an ‘American novelist’. Other novelists, such as Neil Gaiman, Ian Banks, David Mitchell and Salman Rushdie are just a handful of writers who have referenced her as a major inspiration.

Songs such as ‘Heron Dance’ form a sprawling multi-disciplinary record of the imagined Kesh culture. From illustrations, music and wider folklore to an invented language, Le Guin went to great lengths to put flesh on the bones of a culture from the far distant future. The recorded musical element (as featured in this minute) was a later addition to the process of writing the experimental novel ‘Always Coming Home’. Le Guin first wrote indigenous poetry, approaching Todd Barton to write indigenous music after he had written the score to one of her radio plays. Le Guin wanted to hear the music she had imagined, enlisting Barton as the interlocutor between imagination and reality.

Compositions were based on the numbers four and five, as they were seen as guiding forces in Kesh culture. What Barton created was a music based on “interlocking spirals … [of] alternating fives and fours, or fives and fives”. Barton spent time listening to the Californian landscape for natural cues that would fit this new structure. A line from ‘Always Coming Home’ tells us that the structure of the Kesh music “served as a subject of meditation and as an inexhaustible metaphor”. Le Guin’s writing and music still serve as a deep well of inspiration, learning and communication for a new generation of readers and listeners.

About this Contributor

Given name
Ursula K
Family name
Le Guin
Contributor type
Minutes created
GRC4 #11

Minutes by Ursula K Le Guin