Ursula K. Le Guin's
National Book Award Speech
Transcript and Notes

On November 19, 2014, Le Guin was awarded the National Book Foundation's Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, one of literature's most prestigious honors, recognizing individuals who have made an exceptional impact on the United States' literary heritage. Most in science fiction would extend that to include an exceptional effect on the entire genre.

Here is the transcript of her talk:

Thank you Neil [Gaiman, who introduced her], and to the givers of this beautiful award, my thanks from the heart. My family, my agent, editors, know that my being here is their doing as well as mine, and that the beautiful reward is theirs as much as mine. And I rejoice at 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 50 years 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 the production of a market commodity and the practice of an art. Developing written material to suit sales strategies in order to maximize corporate profit and advertising revenue is not quite the same thing as responsible book publishing or authorship. [ad-lib response to audience: ] 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 ebook six or seven 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 and what to write. [ad-lib response to audience: ] Well, I love you too, darling.

Books, you know, they're not just commodities. The profit motive often is in conflict with the aims of art. We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. 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, 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.

Want to read more Le Guin speeches?

Important works include:

  • The Left Hand of Darkness (1968), which won the Nebula Award - effective, multi-leveled novel about human contact with a wintry world where the natives are neuter most of the month and may then be either sex (and both a mother and a father), and its psychological and sociological effects.
  • The Dispossessed (1974), which won both the Hugo and Nebula - a much-praised political novel.
  • Her Earthsea trilogy, particularly the third book, The Farthest Shore, which won the National Book Award in 1973.
  • Her short story, "Forgiveness Day," collected in Four Ways to Forgiveness (1995), won the Sturgeon Award.

Le Guin's website.

Le Guin on Wikipedia.

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updated 11/20/2014