Both of Ursula K. Le Guin’s parents were anthropologists. Living and working in the hills outside Berkley, California, they studied vanishing native cultures. Her mother, Theodora Kroeber, wrote Ishi in Two Worlds, an account of the last known survivor of the Yahi people.
An accomplished poet, Ursula K. Le Guin is also the author of more than 25 novels and short story collections. Her work is classified as science fiction or fantasy. If you’re not usually a fan of genre fiction, don’t let that classification scare you! Le Guin may be writing about space travel and aliens, but she is really doing anthropology. In Always Coming Home, she creates a whole culture including, songs, maps, and poems for an imagined people called the Kesh. She asks questions about intentional communities and the longing for utopia in The Dispossessed, and she muses about the nature and uses of education in the Earthsea series.
Her poetry is more firmly rooted in this world. In her last book of poems, Late in the Day: Poems 2010-2014, published at the age of 87, Le Guin was working at the height of her powers. The poems are stripped down to essentials, but nothing is missing. This fine collection also includes an essay called “Form, Free Verse, Free Form: Some Thoughts” which is a master class on the relationship between formal poems and free verse.
How does setting influence your poetic work? Try writing a poem where setting is everything. Whether it’s Le Guin’s California foothills, the banks of a creek bravely winding its way to the ocean, or an utterly new planet that only you have explored!