This carefully crafted piece may not be everyone's idea of a poem, but I believe it is, it is rebellious, hopeful, generous, and inimicable. So without more ado - Ursula Le Guin's acceptance speech for the National Book Foundation's Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. The transcript is below - but hearing it - that is the thing.
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. (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. Well... [I love you, Ursula!] (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.
Have a great week - and for more poetry the Tuesday Poem hub is always full of surprises.