Ursula Le Guin at National Book Awards: Capitalism Is Not Inescapable

According to NPR’s Petra Mayer, “the crowd went wild” over science fiction writer Ursula K. Le Guin’s impassioned defense of the genre’s place in American fiction at the National Book Awards on November 19. Le Guin went further, providing an otherwise sedate crowd with a stirring indictment of capitalism, suggesting we will need visionary writers as we prepare for harder times ahead.

Transcript below.

65th Annual National Book Award

Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters to Ursula K. LeGuin

November 19, 2014 – Transcript

Oh Lord. How’s that [adjusting microphone]. That okay? I seem to be a little shorter than most of these people. Thank you Neal.

And to the givers of this beautiful award, my thanks from the heart. My family, my agents, my editors know that my being here is their doing as much as well as mine, and that the beautiful award is theirs as much as mine.

And I rejoice in accepting it for, and sharing it with all the writers who were excluded from literature for so long – my fellow authors of fantasy and science fiction, writers of the imagination, who for the last fifty years have watched the beautiful awards go to the so-called realists.

I think hard times are coming when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now and can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine some real grounds for hope. We will need writers who can remember freedom. Poets, visionaries – the realists of a larger reality.

Right now I think we need writers who know the difference between production of a market commodity and the practice of an art. [applause]

Developing written material to suit sales strategies in order to maximize corporate profits and advertising revenue is not quite the same thing as responsible book publishing or authorship.


Thank you brave applauders.

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 six or seven times more than they charge customers. [emphatic applause]

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 and what to write.

Well…..I love you too darling [to a member of the audience].

Books, you know, they’re not just commodities. The profit motive is often in conflict with the aims of art. We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings [laughter and applause]. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art – the art of words.

I have had a long career and a good one, in good company. Now here at the end of it I really 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 is not profit, its name is freedom.

Thank you.


h/t to Natasha Hakimi Zapata

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