A Left-Handed Wedding Announcement

The Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research has been a hub for information about the comings and goings of anthropologists since its founding in 1941 as the Viking Fund. Its vast archives maintained in its current office on Park Avenue South in New York City contain countless treasures, including this wedding announcement:

Announcement of wedding of Ursula Kroeber to Charles LeGuin

It’s hard to say just how many anthropologists received this notification, but at the time it was sent—sometime in late 1953 or early 1954—Alfred Kroeber was completing the massive editorial job that resulted in Anthropology Today, the result of a huge Wenner-Gren symposium intended to unite the discipline.

Upon meeting her beloved, the historian Charles, Ursula Kroeber abandoned her own foray into academia (she had been pursuing a doctorate in poetry) and, as Ursula LeGuin, fully invested herself in a genre of fiction that took the sensibilities of the cultural relativist anthropology her father had learned from Franz Boas, and torqued it with speculative, feminist sensibilities.

Today she needs no introduction, but as a young woman, this announcement alerted the far-flung members of her father’s vast network that a new entity was emerging. Over the next decade alone LeGuin would publish five novels and begin to redefine the genres of fantasy and science fiction with writing for children and adults which braided ethnography, futurism, biology, gender, religion and politics.

This piece of ephemera, from a young woman at a liminal threshold of becoming, hailed me as a glimmering fleck of gold in the correspondence between Kroeber and Paul Fejos, the impresario who obtained the funding to start the Wenner-Gren Foundation. A relic in more ways than one, this wedding announcement is evidence that within the archives of anthropology there are portals to other worlds.

Joanna Radin: contributions / website / joanna.radin@yale.edu

1 Comment

  1. This is wonderful stuff! and a great intro (for a novice reader) to Clio’s Fancy. Thank you for sharing! Although now based in Berkeley, I only recently discovered on seeing her plaque at the Berkeley High Community Theater, that Ursula le Guin is a Berkeley High School graduate. She gave a great talk at Berkeley Townsend Center a few years ago where she talks a little about growing up as an anthropologist’s daughter and the links between fiction and anthropology (about ten minutes in to this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ovZ6qgTy3SE) and also talks further about her Berkeley roots, her childhood, (but not the Paris wedding!) here http://alumni.berkeley.edu/california-magazine/spring-2013-growing/song-herself

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