Speech in Acceptance of the National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters
To the givers of this beautiful reward, my thanks, from
the heart. My family, my agents, my editors, know that my being here is their
doing as well as my own, and that the beautiful reward is theirs as much as
mine. And I rejoice in accepting it for, and sharing it with, all the writers
who’ve been excluded from literature for so long — my fellow authors of
fantasy and science fiction, writers of the imagination, who for fifty years
have watched the beautiful rewards go to the so-called realists.
Hard times are coming, when we’ll be wanting the voices of
writers who can see alternatives to how we live now, can see through our
fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being,
and even imagine real grounds for hope. We’ll need writers who can remember
freedom — poets, visionaries — realists of a larger reality.
Right now, we need writers who know the difference between
production of a market commodity and the practice of an art. Developing written
material to suit sales strategies in order to maximise corporate profit and
advertising revenue is not the same thing as responsible book publishing or
Yet I see sales departments given control over editorial. I
see my own publishers, in a silly panic of ignorance and greed, charging public
libraries for an e-book 6 or 7 times more than they charge customers. We just
saw a profiteer try to punish a publisher for disobedience, and writers
threatened by corporate fatwa. And I see a lot of us, the producers, who write
the books and make the books, accepting this — letting commodity profiteers
sell us like deodorant, and tell us what to publish, what to write.
Books aren’t just commodities; the profit motive is often in
conflict with the aims of art. We live in capitalism, its power seems inescapable
— but then, so did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted
and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art. Very
often in our art, the art of words.
I’ve had a long career as a writer, and a good one, in good
company. Here at the end of it, I don’t want to watch American literature get
sold down the river. We who live by writing and publishing want and should
demand our fair share of the proceeds; but the name of our beautiful reward
isn’t profit. Its name is freedom.
Ursula K. Le Guin
November 19, 2014
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Copyright © 2014 Ursula K. Le Guin