Ursula K. Le Guin, a science fiction author venerated for her poignant diction, gender-bending characters and eerily accurate speculations about politics and technology, was honored for her life’s work at the 2014 National Book Awards. Her acceptance speech was both eloquent and bold in its predictions and accusations — which is par for the course for the author, who’s delivered a number of memorable commencement speeches.
In this speech, she targeted businesses aiming to commodify the art of writing (read: Amazon), and championed authors who delve into fantastical plots rather than sticking with straightforward realism. Accepting and sharing her award with “all the writers who were excluded from literature for so long,” Le Guin offered many notable thoughts:
“My fellow writers of the imagination … watched the beautiful awards go to the so-called realists.”
Le Guin voiced her feelings about genre — as a genre writer herself, she wishes science fiction and fantasy writers would be given due credit from critics and literary awards.
“We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings.”
She also chastised our tendency towards nonchalance concerning our country’s current economic state, saying that just because a social structure seems pervasive doesn’t mean it can’t be challenged.
“I think hard times are coming. We will need writers who can remember freedom. Poets, visionaries, the realists of a larger reality.”
Le Guin’s speculations about the future have proven to be eerily correct in some cases, such as cross-continent communication, so when she says “hard times are coming,” it might be worth heeding her words of warning.
“We need writers who know the difference between the production of a commodity and the practice of an art.”
Le Guin emphasized the importance of uncoupling art and profit, and hinted less-than-subtly that Amazon and other industry juggernauts are guilty of this crime, to the detriment of literature.
“I’ve had a good career. Here at the end of it, I really don’t want to watch American literature get sold down the river.”
Again, the author noted that she’s concerned about the well-being of artistic pursuits, and hopes that publishers and writers alike eschew profit for the more rewarding payoff of freedom.