Brow Beat

Remember the Late Ursula K. Le Guin by Rewatching Her Remarkable Speech at the 2014 National Book Awards

The author best known for her works of fantasy and science fiction died on Monday at age 88.

Ursula K. Le Guin stands at a podium.
Ursula K. Le Guin attends 2014 National Book Awards on November 19, 2014 in New York City.
Robin Marchant/Getty Images

Ursula K. Le Guin, the acclaimed writer best known for her fantasy and science-fiction novels, died on Monday at the age of 88, her son confirmed to the New York Times. Her body of work, which includes the Earthsea series and the Hugo and Nebula award winners The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed, used speculative fiction to touch on issues surrounding gender and race.

In 2014, Le Guin was also the recipient of the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters at the 65th National Book Awards, where Neil Gaiman, who introduced her, called her “a giant of literature.” Le Guin wore that title, but not without acknowledging other writers of genre fiction who were not always so respected. “I rejoice in accepting it for and sharing it with all the writers who were excluded from literature from so long,” she said in her acceptance speech. “My fellow authors of fantasy and science fiction, writers of the imagination who for the last 50 years watched the beautiful awards go to the so-called realists.”

In the same speech, Le Guin also admonished publishers for treating literature like a commodity instead of like art (and received plenty of cheers from the audience for doing so). She said:

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 […] Books, they’re not just commodities. 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. 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.

The full speech, which is absolutely worth watching, is below.