Le Guin became interested in literature quite early. At age 11, she submitted her first story to the magazine Astounding Science Fiction. Despite being rejected, she continued writing but did not attempt to publish for the next ten years.
From 1951 to 1961 she wrote five novels, which publishers rejected, because they seemed inaccessible. She also wrote poetry during this time, including Wild Angels (1975).
Her earliest writings, some of which she adapted in Orsinian Tales and Malafrena, were non-fantastic stories set in the imaginary country of Orsinia. Searching for a way to express her interests, she returned to her early interest in science fiction; in the early 1960s her work began to be published regularly. One Orsinian Tale was published in the Summer 1961 issue of The Western Humanities Review and three of her stories appeared in 1962 and 1963 numbers of Fantastic Stories of Imagination, a monthly edited by Cele Goldsmith. Goldsmith also edited Amazing Stories, which ran two of Le Guin's stories in 1964, including the first "Hainish" story.
In 1964 the short story "The Word of Unbinding" was published. This was the first of the Earthsea fantasy series, which includes six books and eight short stories. The three linked young adult novels beginning with A Wizard of Earthsea (1968), The Tombs of Atuan (1970), and The Farthest Shore (1972), sometimes referred to as The Earthsea Trilogy, in later years would be joined by the books Tehanu, Tales from Earthsea and The Other Wind.
Le Guin received wide recognition for her novel The Left Hand of Darkness, which won the Hugo and Nebula awards in 1970. Her subsequent novel The Dispossessed made her the first person to win both the Hugo and Nebula Awards for Best Novel twice for the same two books.
In later years, Le Guin worked in film and audio. She contributed to The Lathe of Heaven, a 1979 PBS film based on her novel of the same name. In 1985 she collaborated with avant-garde composer David Bedford on the libretto of Rigel 9, a space opera.
In May 1983 she delivered a well-received commencement address entitled "A Left-Handed Commencement Address" at Mills College, Oakland, California. It is listed as No. 82 in American Rhetoric's Top 100 Speeches of the 20th Century (listed by rank). and is included in her nonfiction collection Dancing at the Edge of the World.
In 1984, Le Guin was part of a group along with Ken Kesey, Brian Booth, and William Stafford that founded the Oregon Institute of Literary Arts, which is now known as Literary Arts in Portland.
In December 2009, Le Guin resigned from the Authors Guild in protest over its endorsement of Google Books, Google's book digitization project. "You decided to deal with the devil", she wrote in her resignation letter. "There are principles involved, above all the whole concept of copyright; and these you have seen fit to abandon to a corporation, on their terms, without a struggle." (See Authors Guild, Inc. v. Google, Inc..)