“I have had a long career and a good one, in good company. And here, at the end of it, I really don’t want to watch American literature get sold down the river,” said Ursula K Le Guin, the late science-fiction and fantasy writer, in her stirring speech in the video above.
Le Guin died on January 23 at the age of 88, with a corpus of more than 20 novels, over 100 short stories, and a massive bunch of poetry, essays, children’s books and even translations, which won her several Nebula and Hugo awards for science-fiction and fantasy.
Le Guin’s stories, however, weren’t just about nonexistent or make-believe worlds. Even while writing about dragons, wizards and spaceships, she conveyed feminist, idealistic sensibilities and tackled gender, race, and class with both ferocity and sensitivity. Glimpses of that ferocity and wit are available in her acceptance speech for the lifetime achievement award from the National Book Foundation of USA, which she got in 2014.
As Le Guin said:
“Books are 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. 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...We who lived by writing and publishing want and should demand our fair share of the proceeds. But the name of our beautiful reward is not profit – it’s freedom.”
Le Guin’s work inspired several writers, including Neil Gaiman and Stephen King. Gaiman wrote on Twitter: “I just learned that Ursula K. Le Guin has died. Her words are always with us. Some of them are written on my soul. I miss her as a glorious funny prickly person, & I miss her as the deepest and smartest of the writers, too”. As a tribute, he posted the video of his own and her speeches when he presented the lifetime achievement award to Le Guin.
Writing about her in The Guardian, author Margaret Atwood recounted a story of how she suggested Le Guin’s acclaimed Earthsea trilogy to a woman mourning the loss of her friend. She wrote, “Now I will take my own advice, and meet with Ursula again in her own thought experiment, and say Hail and Farewell, and thank you. It’s time for some dragon wisdom.”