I was a student and colleague of Le Guin’s, but mainly I was a devoted reader like millions of others, in that her writing meant a great deal to me. The crucial text for me was The Left Hand of Darkness, a great science fiction novel about gender. For me as a young man reading it was a blow to the head and a paradigm buster, and I recommend it to everyone as a fine example of what art can do to enlarge consciousness, and create meaning and value.
I also remember staying up all night to finish her novel The Dispossessed, and feeling afterward electrified by all the possibilities it opened up concerning how the utopian novel could work. I’ve been mining that vein ever since.
Those two books changed me, and really all her writing is of a piece with them, including her poetry, criticism, and fiction at all lengths. Her recently collected short stories, and an omnibus collection of her novellas, are both superb; these are the volumes I would recommend along with the two great novels to anyone picking up her books for the first time. Taken all in all, her work was that of a complete person of letters and an important public intellectual. Until Monday she was one of the greatest living American writers; now she takes her place in American history, and her books will continue to be read by readers grateful for their many gifts.
As a science fiction writer I have to add that it was very heartening to see how she always advocated for science fiction as a genre and a community. She spoke out for the field fiercely and hilariously; she had edges, and didn’t like snobs. For years she was the point man in science fiction’s long campaign for respectability. Now that reality itself has turned into a science fiction novel, her defense of the field looks thoroughly justified and quite successful. She was a big part of that transformation. She kicked ass. We love her for that as well as for her beautiful fiction.