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USPS honors Le Guin, an FFRF ‘Emperor’ winner

Nella Larsen stamp.
Ursula Le Guin stamp.
Alain Locke stamp.
Ursula K. Le Guin signs a copy of one of her books during the 2009 FFRF convention in Seattle. (Photo by Greg Gilbert)

The United States Postal Service (USPS) has issued a stamp honoring renowned author Ursula K. Le Guin, who spoke at FFRF’s 2009 convention and earned its Emperor Has No Clothes award.

Le Guin, who died at 88 in 2018, was the famed author of more than 20 novels, including pioneering science fiction and fantasy. Her many literary honors include the Hugo for her 1969 book, The Left Hand of Darkness, and another Hugo in 1975 for The Dispossessed. She wrote 21 novels, 11 volumes of short stories, three collections of essays, at least 12 books for children, six volumes of poetry and four of translation. 

The postal service’s website says of the Le Guin stamp, which was issued on July 27: “The 33rd stamp in the Literary Arts series honors Ursula K. Le Guin, who expanded the scope of literature through novels and short stories that increased critical and popular appreciation of science fiction and fantasy.”

At the 2014 National Book Awards, Le Guin was given the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. The New York Times reported that she accepted the medal on behalf of her fellow writers of fantasy and science fiction, who, she said, had been “excluded from literature for so long” while literary honors went to the “so-called realists.”

At her acceptance speech at FFRF’s 2009 convention in Seattle, Le Guin said: “Let the tailors of the garments of God sit in their tailor shops and stitch away, but let them stay there in their temples, out of government, out of the schools. And we who live among real people — real, badly dressed people, people wearing rags, people wearing army uniforms, people sleeping on our streets without a blanket to cover them — let us have true charity: Let us look to our people, and work to clothe them better.” 

Two other freethinkers also have been honored recently with USPS stamps. Nella Larsen and Alain Locke are two of the four “Voices of the Harlem Renaissance” stamps that were issued in 2020.

The USPS site describes why Larsen was honored with a stamp: “In two novels, Nella Larsen (1891-1964) explored the complex experiences of mixed-race people and questions of identity and belonging. Now considered one of the most important novelists of the Harlem Renaissance, Larsen challenged conventional thinking, and her work continues to invite interpretations from previously neglected points of view.”

FFRF’s Freethought of the Day includes a biography of Larsen and this quote: “With the obscuring curtain of religion rent, she was able to look about her and see with shocked eyes this thing she had done to herself. She couldn’t, she thought ironically, even blame God for it, now that she knew he didn’t exist.” — Larsen, writing in Quicksand about her character Helga Crane.

And here’s what the USPS site has to say about Locke’s importance to the Harlem Renaissance. “Writer, philosopher, educator and arts advocate Alain Locke (1885-1954) was a vital intellectual figure of the Harlem Renaissance. Locke wrote and edited some of the most significant publications of the movement, and he played a leading role in supporting and promoting writers and artists.”

FFRF’s Freethought of the Day bio of Locke ends with this quote: “The best argument against there being a God is the white man who says God made him.” — Locke, as quoted in Christopher Buck’s book, Alain Locke: Faith and Philosophy.