The list of awards won is itself impressive (among them the National Book Award and a finalist for the Pulitzer), but when you consider the praise for Ursula Le Guin's works from fellow-writers like John Updike and Grace Paley, it becomes clear that she isn't "just" a science fiction writer, but a literary artist of the first rank. For the last 52 years of her Portland residency Le Guin has proved again and again her place in the line of innovative Oregon writers from Bernard Malamud to Ken Kesey.
Born in Berkeley, California in 1929, Le Guin presumably absorbed the avant garde attitude from the air down there. Her father was an anthropologist and her mother was an author; her husband, Charles Le Guin, is an historian. This intellectual atmosphere has doubtless affected Le Guin's highly erudite literary style and ability to deal with complex social and humanist concerns with seeming ease. The first (and still probably the greatest) example of this is the groundbreaking The Left Hand of Darkness, which influenced Frank Herbert's Dune.
Among Le Guin's best-known work is the Earthsea cycle, ostensibly for children but with much broader appeal. A traditional high fantasy, the Earthsea series is not a single chronological story, but the unfolding of an entire world with distinct cultures, spiritualities and moral issues. This blend of genres usually associated with escapism (sci-fi, fantasy) and serious literary effort has characterized Le Guin's output throughout her career. Other notable efforts in her impressive canon include The Dispossessed and Always Coming Home, and Searoad which contains no sci-fi or fantasy elements.
Beside 22 novels and countless short stories, Le Guin has authored several collections of poetry, essays, scripts, translations and children's books. She has studied and taught at a number of prestigious universities, and though she maintains a highly private life (retired from teaching) in Portland she makes the occasional foray to discuss writing in general and her works in particular. While many "science fiction" writers last no longer than their advance checks, because she uses it only as a forum and not a genre per se Ursula Le Guin's works will undoubtedly survive as part of the modern canon.