NEW YORK — Ursula K. Le Guin, the science fiction and fantasy writer widely celebrated as a visionary and compelling storyteller, is receiving an honorary National Book Award.
The National Book Foundation, which presents the awards, announced Tuesday that Le Guin was receiving the 2014 Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. Previous winners include Toni Morrison, Norman Mailer and Elmore Leonard. Le Guin, 84, is known for such novels as "The Left Hand of Darkness" and "The Farthest Shore," which in 1973 won the National Book Award for young people's literature.
"Ursula Le Guin has had an extraordinary impact on several generations of readers and, particularly, writers in the United States and around the world," Harold Augenbraum, the foundation's executive director, said in a statement. "She has shown how great writing will obliterate the antiquated — and never really valid — line between popular and literary art. Her influence will be felt for decades to come."
Neil Gaiman, who has long cited Le Guin as among his favorite writers, will present her the medal at the Nov. 19 ceremony in New York.
That Le Guin is accepting the award is itself a story. She has criticized the "commercial machinery of best-sellerdom and prizedom" and mocked the idea of being "Nobel Prize Winner Soandso" or "Jane D. Wonthepulitzer." But in a recent email to The Associated Press, she said that she was grateful for being Ursula K. Le Guin, honorary National Book Award winner.
"I've spoken against the whole winners-take-all concept of literary awards, but it's the only game going," she wrote, "and I'd be a curmudgeon not to see this award as an honor."
A Berkeley, California, native who now lives in Portland, Oregon, Le Guin has written more than 50 books that reflect her extraordinary range of interests and concerns, from the ancient past to the near future. Through her stories set in Earthsea and other alternative worlds, she has explored issues of class, religion, race and gender, such as imagining a unisex society in "Left Hand of Darkness."
She has written novels, short stories, poetry, criticism and a primer on writing, "Steering the Craft." She has written books for adults and for children. She taught herself Latin and in her 70s wrote a novel, "Lavinia," based on a minor character in Virgil's "The Aeneid." She translated a classic of Chinese philosophy, Lao Tzu's "Tao Te Ching," and wrote in the introduction that she had designed it for a "present-day, unwise, unpowerful, and perhaps unmale reader, not seeking esoteric secrets, but listening for a voice that speaks to the soul."
Her books have sold millions worldwide, and, Le Guin has been receiving awards for decades. She was even a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize — a rare achievement for a science fiction-fantasy writer — when her "Unlocking the Air and Other Stories" was among the last three fiction selections in 1997.
"Well, it's taken the literary/critical/academic establishment 60 or 70 years to learn to respect good science fiction and fantasy," she told The Associated Press, "but hey, you've come a long way, baby!"