Sunday, February 22, 2015

Ursula LeGuin Gives It To Us Straight

Ursula LeGuin’s speech upon accepting the National Book Foundation Medal for “Distinguished Contribution to American Letters” merits our attention. It’s fairly gloomy and a little cranky in tone but very clearly states her views on publishing and publishers today. Here it is:

Photo © by Marian Wood Kolisch
“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 authorship.

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.

Thank you.”

Ursula K. Le Guin
November 19, 2014

[This text may be quoted without obtaining permission from the author, or copied in full so long as the copyright information is included: Copyright © 2014 Ursula K. Le Guin] 


  1. For such a prolific writer whose work had been applauded, appreciated, and awarded since the 1960s, LeGuin's acceptance speech seems more compassionate than cranky. Her words mimic what most writers feel: our words are our art and our art isn't out there to make someone else rich.

  2. Really enjoying these posts! Hope that you are having fun writing them.