Saturday, November 22, 2014

Ursula K. Le Guin, National Book Awards


Because writing is so much a part of who I am, because so many of my friends and colleagues are writers, and so many more cherish reading,
I share this with you:

One of the contemporary authors I most respect, Ursula Le Guin (native of Berkeley, daughter of Alfred Kroeber, first Professor of Anthropology at UC Berkeley) recently won a National Book Award. I can think of no one more deserving.

I met Ursula Le Guin in the spring of 1983 at a meeting of the Jung Institute of San Francisco on the theme of “Futurist Visions” at which Joseph Campbell was also one of the panelists. A woman raised the issue that in all the talk about the future the nuclear threat was never mentioned. Her most valid comment was patronizingly dismissed and I was enraged. At that time I was helping organize the International Day of Nuclear Disarmament and I objected to the disrespect shown her and seconded her criticism of speaking of the future without once mentioning the threat of nuclear war (Pres. Reagan was intent on the MX Missile, a first strike nuclear weapon.) Campbell particularly took exception and said that we only had nuclear weapons because Russia was threatening us. An argument ensued and I made the comment that he and all the speakers had spoken to the Hero Archetype (particularly in the Warrior role) but had not once mentioned the Hero Archetype in the role of Healer, the archetype most relevant to any vision of the future now worth the having.
I was grateful to Le Guin for siding with me.

A true visionary, a writer of particular grace, sensibility, depth, and wisdom, I share with you her acceptance speech:

“To the givers of this beautiful reward, my thanks, from the heart. My family, my agents, my editors, know that my being here is their doing as well as my own, and that the beautiful reward is theirs as much as mine. And I rejoice in accepting it for, and sharing it with, all the writers who've been excluded from literature for so long - my fellow authors of fantasy and science fiction, writers of the imagination, who for 50 years have watched the beautiful rewards go to the so-called realists.

Hard times are coming, when we'll be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now, can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine real grounds for hope. We'll need writers who can remember freedom - poets, visionaries - realists of a larger reality.

Right now, we need writers who know the difference between production of a market commodity and the practice of an art. Developing written material to suit sales strategies in order to maximise corporate profit and advertising revenue is not the same thing as responsible book publishing or authorship.

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 e-book 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, what to write.

Books aren't just commodities; the profit motive is often in conflict with the aims of art. We live in capitalism, its power seems inescapable - but then, 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. Very often in our art, the art of words.

I've had a long career as a writer, and a good one, in good company. Here at the end of it, I 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 isn't profit. Its name is freedom.“

Indeed the word can always be used for truth or for lying, to liberate or to enslave, to heal or to hurt, for good or for ill. May we always use it for good.

Rafael Jesús González

Berkeley, Alta California


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