New Ursula K. Le Guin Prize for Fiction to recognize ‘realists of a larger reality’

New Ursula K. Le Guin Prize for Fiction to recognize ‘realists of a larger reality’
Ursula K. Le Guin, 2014. Photo by Jack Liu.

The Ursula K. Le Guin Trust announced a new award for “imaginative fiction” this week. The annual prize will grant $25,000 to an author for a single book-length work, with the first award set to be granted Oct. 21, 2022, on the late Ursula K. Le Guin’s birthday.

The Trust points to the author’s 2014 National Book Awards speech as inspiration for the award, officially titled the Ursula K. Le Guin Prize for Fiction. While accepting the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, Le Guin spoke to the importance of “writers of the imagination” — particularly, those who work in the realm of fantasy and science fiction.

“Hard times are coming, when we’ll be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now, can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine real grounds for hope,” she said, as noted by the Trust in the announcement. “We’ll need writers who can remember freedom — poets, visionaries — realists of a larger reality.”

The nomination period for the prize will begin Feb. 1, 2022, and the process will be open to the public, meaning that “readers, authors, booksellers, publishers, librarians, and anyone else can nominate work they believe fits the prize criteria,” explained the Trust. A panel of five inaugural jurors — who include adrienne maree brown, Becky Chambers, Molly Gloss, David Mitchell and Luis Alberto Urrea — will choose from a shortlist created by the Trust from the pool of nominations.

“Ursula Le Guin’s visionary fiction entered my head when I was young and has never left. Her novels and stories defined, in part, my understanding of what fiction can do, should do, and why,” David Mitchell said in the announcement. “I am deeply honoured to be a juror in the inaugural year of a literary prize created in Ursula’s memory, and I look forward to encountering new works of imaginative fiction which, like Ursula’s, glow in the dark.”

To be eligible for the prize, the works of imaginative fiction must be written by a single author and published in 2022 in the United States in English or in translation to English. The book must also reflect “the concepts and ideas that were central to Ursula’s own work, including but certainly not limited to: hope, equity, and freedom; non-violence and alternatives to conflict; and a holistic view of humanity’s place in the natural world.”

Ursula K. Le Guin. Photo: Copyright © by Marian Wood Kolisch.
Ursula K. Le Guin. Photo: Copyright © by Marian Wood Kolisch.

Authors will only be able to receive the prize once. The website for the award also states that the “Prize also gives weight to those writers whose access to resources, due to race, gender, age, class or other factors, may be limited; who are working outside of institutional frameworks such as MFA programs; who live outside of cultural centers such as New York; and who have not yet been widely recognized for their work.”

“Many will appreciate an irony in that Ursula herself was suspicious of literary awards and prizes,” Theo Downes-Le Guin, the author’s son and literary executor, said in statement. “At the same time, she recognized their genuine value in honoring a writer and increasing visibility of good, undervalued writing.”

He continued: “She also knew that a bit of money, at the right moment and in the right spirit, can be a turning point in a writer’s ability to continue writing. I hope the Prize will provide meaningful help and recognition to writers who might otherwise not receive it.”

Over her lifetime, Le Guin received several major prizes for her work, including six Nebula Awards, seven Hugo Awards and many more. In addition to her much-acclaimed science fiction novels, such as “The Left Hand of Darkness” and the Earthsea series, she published short stories, poetry, children’s books and essays, filling the literary canon with dragons, wizards, new planets and empathy.

“Ursula Le Guin’s books are what made my younger self want to become a science fiction writer, so I consider it a huge honor to be part of the jury for this prize,” Becky Chambers said. “Fictional futures that give us something to point our compasses toward are a vital thing, and I’m so excited for the opportunity to help celebrate the voices continuing that work.”

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Top Image: Ursula K. Le Guin, 2014. Photo by Jack Liu.