Tiny Preface: This Personal Hero speech was originally written as a work assignment. I thought I’d share here, so maybe you can learn a little more about me and my influences. I hope you enjoy!
My personal hero is Ursula K. LeGuin.
My favorite quote of her’s is:
“All of us have to learn to invent our lives, make them up, imagine them.”
For her, that meant she braved a profession dominated by men in her time: writing. And she demonstrated her expertise with words in every genre.
To this day, she is known most widely for her popular book series “Earthsea,” a fantasy sci-fi that sent a boy to wizarding school before JKR even imagined the idea.
She’s also the author of the award-winning classics “The Dispossessed” and “The Left Hand of Darkness”, both speculative fiction that explore alternative societal structures and human identity. Throughout her life she wrote across genres, straddling fiction and nonfiction, and writing books of poetry up until the day she died.
One of her first short stories that I read in elementary school — and has stuck with me to this day — is “Schrodinger’s Cat”. In this story she takes words very seriously in a very playful way. Let me give you an example:
“On the way here I met a married couple who were coming apart. She had pretty well gone to pieces, but he seemed, at first glance, quite hearty. While he was telling me that he had no hormones of any kind, she pulled herself together and, by supporting her head in the crook of her right foot, approached us shouting, “Well what’s wrong with a person trying to express themselves?” The left leg, the arms, and the trunk, which had remained lying in the heap, twitched and jerked in sympathy. “Great legs,” the husband pointed out, looking at the slim ankle. “My wife had great legs.”
As you can see, Ursula K. LeGuin takes words very seriously here in a very silly and surprising way; expressing in detail that the couple is LITERALLY breaking up by describing them PHYSICALLY falling to pieces.
Another way her playfulness with language shows up is in her version of the “Tao Te Ching.” She compiled multiple translations and re-interpreted them into her poetic style with the first version or translation of the text that was explicitly not patriarchal. Her writing opened up the verses to me with more inclusive and even less prescriptive language, inviting me as the reader to interpret the meanings from my own, unique, perspective.
All while she was writing sci-fi, fantasy, fiction, non-fiction, and poetry — she wrote essays. My favorite book of essays she wrote is “the wave in the mind.” In this collection, she gives in-depth insights into her creative process and her journey through the world of her time. As society changes, words change, and she adapts along with them.
In her first essay, “Introducing Myself”, she says “I am a man.” as her opening sentence.
Throughout the essay, she goes into more detail about how when she started writing only men were writers, so by being a writer, she was a man.
Along the way, women became more represented in professional spheres (Ursula K. LeGuin being one of them), but before women were truly recognized by society as a whole, she grew old. Echoing these societal changes, and her own inventiveness, by the end of the essay she decides, “I might as well start pretending that I am an old woman. I am not sure that anybody has invented old women yet; but it might be worth trying.”
In my own personal and professional life, I’ve drawn from these essays, learning from her creative and imaginative take on writing. In particular, in her essay “Telling is Listening”, she says “Words have power. Names have power. Words are events, they do things, change things. They transform both speaker and hearer; they feed energy back and forth and amplify it. They feed understanding or emotion back and forth and amplify it.”
This inspires me to embody the power of words, to play with them, invent them, and change along with them. As words change, I can change. And I can also create change with words.