Rachel Arons, writing yesterday in the New Yorker (online) describes a tone of wry dismay pervading the presentation Wednesday of the National Book Awards in New York City. Savingly, she adds that the award winners “proffered some urgent and eloquent thoughts about literature.”
At last she reports, “But it was Ursula K. Le Guin, accepting the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters early in the evening, who gave the definitive remarks of the ceremony, gliding through the genre debate and the Amazon-Hachette debacle on her way to explaining the crucial role that literature must play in our society. Petite, her silver hair shining, Le Guin shrugged and grinned when Neil Gaiman placed the medal around her neck. She said that she wanted to share the honor with her fellow-fantasy and sci-fi writers, who have for so long watched ‘the beautiful awards,’ like the one she’d just received, go to the ‘so-called realists.’ Then she continued:
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.