Thursday, January 25, 2018

When Playboy wanted to include a story by Ursula K. Le Guin, but didn't want the readers to know she was a woman

NY:

In the late sixties, Robie Macauley, the fiction editor of Playboy—“Entertainment for Men”—was publishing stories of literary interest. My agent, Virginia Kidd, who couldn’t be kept in a ghetto of any kind, sent him one of mine. It was pure science fiction, and all the important characters in it were men. Virginia submitted it under the discreet byline of U. K. Le Guin. When it was accepted, she revealed the horrid truth. Playboy staggered back, then rallied gamely. The editors said that they’d still like to publish “Nine Lives,” Virginia told me, but that their readers would be frightened if they saw a female byline on a story, so they asked if they could use the initials, instead of my first name.

Unwilling to terrify these vulnerable people, I told Virginia to tell them sure, that’s fine. Playboy thanked us with touching gratitude. Then, after a couple of weeks, they asked for an author biography.

At once, I saw the whole panorama of U.K.’s life as a gaucho in Patagonia, a stevedore in Marseilles, a safari leader in Kenya, a light-heavyweight prizefighter in Chicago, and the abbot of a Coptic monastery in Algeria.

We’d tricked them slightly, though, and I didn’t want to continue the trickery. But what could I say? “He is a housewife and the mother of three children”?