Ursula K. Le Guin received the 2014 National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters from the hands of Neil Gaiman at a ceremony in New York on November 19.
Reporters considered her 6-minute speech the highlight of an evening with no shortage of brilliant writers accepting awards.
According to National Public Radio:
Despite these wins, in many ways the 65th National Book Awards ceremony still belonged to beloved fantasy author Ursula K. Le Guin. LeGuin, the author of such classics as The Left Hand of Darkness and the Earthsea novels, got a standing ovation when she came on stage to accept an award for distinguished contributions to American letters.
Once she was onstage, she pulled no punches in a fiery speech about art and commerce. “We just saw a profiteer try to punish a publisher for disobedience, and writers threatened by corporate fatwa,” LeGuin said. “And I see a lot of us, the producers, accepting this — letting commodity profiteers sell us like deodorant!”
She was referring to the recent dispute between Amazon and the publisher Hachette over e-book pricing. The power of capitalism can seem inescapable, LeGuin said, but resistance and change begin in art. And writers should demand their fair share of the proceeds from their work.
“The name of our beautiful reward is not profit. Its name is freedom.”
Huffington Post found her talk highly quotable:
“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.