Author Neil Gaiman presented the 2014 Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters to Ursula Le K. Le Guin at the National Book Awards this evening.
Before tonight, the two had only met once in an elevator at a sci-fi writer’s conference more than two decades ago in the Midwest. They were on an elevator together and she asked him, “Are there any room parties tonight that you know of?” and he replied, “I don’t know.”
While Gaiman had never met LeGuin in person, her work played a huge role in influencing his writing. As a young writer, Gaiman couldn’t figure out how to copy her style as he did with other writers because her work was so “clean.” So he cheated and read her essays on writing to help inform his own writing when he was a young writer.
“She raised my consciousness,” he said explaining that she opened his eyes to women’s issues. “She made me a better writer and much more importantly, she made me a better person who wrote.”
LeGuin took to the stage to receive the award and gave a speech thanking the National Book Foundation for selecting a writer from a genre which is often overlooked for “realists.” She talked about the role of imaginative writers in “our fear stricken society and it’s obsessive technologies,” stressing “the importance of writers who can offer other ways of being and even imagine some real grounds for hope.”
“We will need writers who can remember freedom, the realists of a larger reality,” she said.
In her powerful address, she called on writers and publishers to look for the art of books and fight against capitalism. “We need writers who know the difference between production of a market commodity and production of art,” she said.
She warned of sales departments taking over editorial departments at publishing houses and called out publishers for charging libraries more for eBooks than consumers.
“Books are not just commodities, the profit motive is often in conflict with the aim of art,” she remarked. “We live with capitalism. It’s power seems inescapable, so did the divine right of kings.”
Le Guin’s hope for this scenario lies in writing itself. “Resistance and change often come in art, often in the art of words,” she concluded. “I don’t want to see American literature get sold down the river. The name of our beautiful reward is not profit, it’s name is freedom.”