Ursula Le Guin: The Artist’s Reward Is Not Profit; It Is Freedom

(22 November 2014)

The sixty-fifth annual National Book Awards were held on the evening of 19 November 2014.

Lemony Snicket (the pseudonym of Daniel Handler) hosted the event. He filled the night with jokes, some funny (e.g., the NBAs are like the Oscars of the book world, “if nobody gave a sh-t about the Oscars”; and “outside of the book world, we’re all considered losers”), yet some absolutely racist and unacceptable.

‘Twas A Series of Unfortunate Racist Events.

Snicket’s racism aside, the highlight of the night was doubtless Ursula Le Guin’s amazing speech. The 85-year-old literary legend was honored with the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. In her acceptance speech, Le Guin spoke to the utmost importance of the arts in changing society (emphases mine):

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. 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.

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’ve 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. …

The name of our beautiful reward is not profit. Its name is freedom.