Creative flexibility


Dear Artist,

Ursula Kroeber was eleven years old in 1940 when she submitted a story for publication to Astounding Science Fiction magazine, and it was promptly rejected. Her parents, anthropologists at the University of California, Berkeley, had been taking Ursula and her siblings each summer to an old ranch in Napa Valley where Ursula read fantasy books, including Alice in Wonderland, The Wind in the Willows, Jungle Book, Worm Ouroboros and Alpha Ralpha Boulevard. “Wow!” she thought, “This stuff is so beautiful and so strange, and I want to do something like that.”


A Wizard of Earthsea
first edition cover woodblock illustration by Ruth Robbins (b.1910)

By the time Ursula was in her thirties, she’d written five novels and a book of poetry, and all had been rejected. By then, she’d won a Fulbright scholarship to study in Paris, met her future husband, historian and professor Charles Le Guin, dropped out of a Ph.D and became a mother of three, living in Portland, Oregon. Her writing, always integral and incorporated into family life, explored her passions: social sciences, anthropology, religion, psychology, anarchism and environmentalism. Ursula found that by inventing fictional societies in distant locations, she was free to imagine a world in which she could question her own.



“The Open Sea” Chapter 10
first edition woodblock illustration by Ruth Robbins



Ursula set her early fiction in an imaginary country in the Eastern Block, far from any realistic portrayal of her hometown of Berkeley or the Napa ranch. From there, she commented on the social repression of the 1950s, the Cold War, gender stereotypes, race and her personal quest to follow the uncharted path of an artist. In 1968 at the age of thirty-nine, she published her first novel, A Wizard of Earthsea — a coming-of-age fantasy story about a boy who goes to wizard school, becomes entangled with a shadow creature and embarks on a hero’s journey to free himself. “Freedom consists in doing what you can do best, your work, what you have to do.”


“Ged and Otak”
first edition woodblock illustration by Ruth Robbins



PS: “There’s a point, around the age of twenty, when you have to choose whether to be like everybody else the rest of your life, or to make a virtue of your peculiarities.” (Ursula K. Le Guin)

Esoterica: A Wizard of Earthsea was described by Canadian novelist and activist Margaret Atwood as “one of the wellsprings of fantasy literature” and by British novelist and critic Amanda Craig as “the most thrilling, wise and beautiful children’s novel ever.” Ursula wrote six more novels for the Earthsea series and published dozens of books over the next forty years. By the time she was in her sixties, Ursula’s novels would explore gender, marriage, sexuality, geopolitics and enthnography. “I could write what I couldn’t write in the 1960s, and what, in a way, I couldn’t even fully imagine. You move along with your time,” she observed. Pigeonholed by some critics as a writer of “soft sci-fi” because of her attention to these themes, Ursula prefers instead to be simply known as an American novelist. The New York Times calls her “America’s Greatest Living Science Fiction Writer.” Ursula K. Le Guin, now eighty-eight, still lives with her husband in Portland, Oregon. “I have no interest in confession. My games are transformation and invention.”

ABSTRACT: DESIGN SHOWCASE at Kimoto Gallery continues to Nov. 25th. 


Download the new audio book, The Letters: Vol. 1 and 2, narrated by Dave Genn, here. Proceeds of sales contribute to the production of The Painter’s Keys.

“Love doesn’t just sit there, like a stone; it has to be made, like bread, remade all the time, made new.” (Ursula K Le Guin



  1. Phyllis Porter Rauch on

    I must confess I’ve been receiving your newsletter (blog?) for years and seldom (if ever) opened it. My late husband was the artist and I have dedicated myself more to writing (and running a B and B. ) Though I have discarded most of the other newsletters which arrived – bidden or unbidden, I always hung on to yours. Today I opened it for the first time and thoroughly enjoyed it! Also being a librarian, of course I knew LeGuins name, but had never read a book of hers because I thought science fiction wasn’t “my thing.” Her work sounds fascinating (as does her life) and I am grateful to you for introducing her to me. I will definitely seek out her books. Thank you so much, PHyllis

  2. i have loved Ursula Le Guin’s books and enjoyed the way her story is used to inspire your readers.
    i have a 15 year old grand daughter and now i have to get her the 1st book in the series for my granddaughter for christmas, i read the books as an adult and absolutely loved them.
    look forward to your newsletters. please keep them coming.

  3. This message tiday was exactly what I needed to hear-flexibility in all ways honoring my differences in all their glory — thanks for these inspirational words — they matter!!

  4. Creativity through diversity. In 1911 no one thought that there were any “wild Indians” remaining in California until Ishi walked out of the hills near Lassen, CA starving and all alone as he was the last surviving member of his tribe. Locals didn’t know what to do with him and so they housed him in the local jail and called the University of California. Ishi came under the care of anthropologists Alfred and Theodora Kroeber, living at the anthropology museum at the UC Berkeley campus, showing and explaining his culture as it was able to be translated. Theodora Kroeber, Ursula’s mother wrote the biography, Ishi In Two Worlds, telling Ishi’s story, one of the most transformative books I have ever read. Truth is often stranger than fiction and Ursula was raised knowing that “our world” is really only one of many worlds.

    • Oh oh oh…..I am so glad to finally hear some else knew about Ishi….I and my parents when I was a young child….found the Museum which had the book about him.. Also, I remember a life sized figure of him in the Museum…..I wondered all my life ( I am now 80 years old)….if I did not actually meet him in person….or was it the life sized real figure dressed as him……THe story about him… My dad bought for me and I do not know how I lost it….as a child of parents who had Indian mothers who did not confess that until near their deaths…..I always loved reading about the Indian way of life. I will try to find that book for my grown sons to read. Thank you so much for your story.

      I also love reading these stories told by “THe Painters Keys” Intend to order their books soon.

  5. I, too, don’t always read your newsletters, but always save them, and every time I take a few mins to read one, I’m always inspired and educated by them. Thank you so much for your generosity if writing and sending them! They are a true blessing.
    Anne Davis

  6. Wonderful story here, and I did not know of the Ishi connection, either. Having attended both Berkeley and Stanford long ago, I have been an Ursula Le Guin fan for decades. Her work keeps all of us fascinated. Thank you so much for sharing this!

  7. I have inhaled every one of Ursula’s books (and I’m not a big reader of Sci-fi). They are brilliant, and addicting. I’ve been raving about her for years and am delighted to see her mentioned here. Thank you.

  8. Thank you for this post. Though I’ve loved and been entranced by her books from the first one I opened(A Wrinkle In Time) I have never read the Earthsea series. Nor did I know what you’ve told us about her life. And the quotation you ended with is possibly one of my lifetime favourites.
    I enjoyed this post very much!

  9. My reading table is currently piled with books by Le Guin – although not the sci-fi. Her essays and insights are superb, presented with wit and – hold your breath for this – exquisite verbal structure! Enriching on many levels, and fun to read.

  10. Embracing our peculiarities is something to do all our lives, sometimes tho it takes time to feel comfortable embracing them. Let us get on with the transformation and re-invention!

  11. Her protagonist runs and runs and runs away (till the end of the book) from his own shadow. Until he finds his own courage- and faces his own shadow- and then names and integrates it into himself- he is not WHOLE. You can’t be WHOLE until you integrate your Dark Side. Do yourselves a (creative) favor- and integrate your Dark Side. Your life will improve- and so will your art. But all the happy (only) people who used to like you- won’t like you anymore- because an integrated Dark Side terrifies them.

  12. Pingback: Different Strokes: Illustration : Karen Blanchet

Leave A Reply

Featured Workshop

Painting in the Sacred Valley of Peru 2018
May 31, 2018 to June 11, 2018

sharon-rusch-shaver_workshop-2We will be exploring ancient sites, painting Plein Air, taking photos and eating Chef prepared delicious Peruvian cuisine all while staying in a comfortable Hacienda in the Sacred Valley shaded by towering Eucalyptus trees. Meals, ensuite rooms, transfers to sites*, tours*, museums included.


Premium Member Sharon Rusch Shaver will be sharing 40 years experience traveling and painting plein air with daily demos and private instruction. All mediums and levels of ability. Join us for this exciting Artist-Adventure!$2,650 all inclusive*.


Optional non-painting Machu Picchu overnight excursion-tour available as an add-on. A very limited number of places are available on this Adventure so be sure to reserve your space early!

Featured Artist

Painting is my passion and joy.  My process is intuitive, though informed by good composition and design principles.  I paint what I remember, or think about, or feel, or just what comes off my hands to the brush to the canvas.  Texture and color are of primary importance to me.  I typically choose my support, texture it, select my palette, and go.  There is nothing more satisfying to me than watching paint run and move.  I love the surprises. I experiment and learn constantly.  It is a remarkable journey.  One I am pleased to share with you.


Robert and Sara Genn Twice-Weekly Letters

Subscribe and receive the Twice-Weekly letter on art. You’ll be joining a worldwide community of artists.
Subscription is free.