The death of Ursula K. Le Guin a year ago focused attention on this profoundly imaginative writer, even as several efforts to take the measure of her extraordinary career were already under way. The Library of America, starting in 2016, has brought out four volumes of Le Guin’s work. An excellent documentary, funded by NEH and supported directly by a horde of Le Guin fans, is set to air on public television later this year. Julie Phillips is working on a biography of the writer, and offers her thoughts on Le Guin and the place of place in her world-building fantasy fiction.
Vast early America is another place visited in this issue. Historian Karin Wulf, who coined the phrase, explores the scholarly trend that examines pre-1776 American history not simply by the light of what was to come with the American Revolution and westward expansion of the United States. Instead, Wulf and other scholars are training their eyes on how trade and conflict bound together a conglomeration of peoples—Native American, African, and European—across a large and contested geography.
In this issue, NEH Chairman Jon Parrish Peede reflects on the career of Cecil J. Williams, whose photographs of the civil rights movement provide a moving chronicle of the struggle for equal rights and respect in South Carolina. As Williams recently received a governor’s award in the humanities, Chairman Peede seized the opportunity to acknowledge a debt to Williams and recall the book they worked on together.
Books change us. When the right book finds the right person, the experience is uncommonly powerful. Norah Machia, a reporter in northern New York, takes us inside a classroom full of veterans, many of whom are having their first formal encounter with a college-level humanities course. The words and experiences of earlier generations of soldiers, found in history books, diaries, and other accounts offer these students fresh witness to the personal trials of going to war and coming back from it.
Many people have been affected by George Orwell’s books, especially 1984 and Animal Farm, but there was more to Orwell than political parable. The great dystopian critic may be, says Danny Heitman, one of our least appreciated naturalists. A compulsively hardworking writer, Orwell sought refuge from the busy urban world in rustic settings of forest and stream, where he found inspiration for such extraordinary works as his essay “Some Thoughts on the Common Toad.”