We were jazzed to hear of Ursula K. Le Guin’s receiving the National Book Award last night. She has opened millions upon millions of readers’ minds to new ways of thinking about gender, property, race, freedom, and culture with books and stories that always stay true to the particular reality of human beings’ lives. In her acceptance speech, Le Guin criticized the effect of the profit motive on art, and also insisted that people who live by writing and publishing should get their fair share of the proceeds. We applaud Ursula K. Le Guin for making what some might think is a speculative fantasy into an everyday reality, by being a member of a writers’ cooperative, the Book View Cafe, which publishes e-books and where 95% of the cover price goes to the author.




In general, writers’ incomes have been falling to “abject” levels, even as publishing earnings and readership are expanding. When professions that influence our culture are not well paid, often only the already-well-off can meaningfully engage in that work, reinforcing barriers to social change. Creating mechanisms for mutual aid among writers and artists, and solidarity between consumers and producers, can shift the dynamics. Artists’ cooperatives, consumer-owned bookstores, and patrons’ direct support of artists are among the tools we can use to create healthy relationships in our culture.


If you want to support CDI’s efforts to help create and sustain artists’ cooperatives, please donate or send us a note at info@cdi.coop.


Here is the full transcript of Le Guin’s speech, courtesy of Parker Higgins:
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Ursula K Le Guin, picture shared under Creative Commons from Flickr.

Thank you Neil, and to the givers of this beautiful reward, my thanks from the heart. My family, my agent, editors, know that my being here is their doing as well as mine, and that the beautiful reward is theirs as much as mine. And I rejoice at accepting it for, and sharing it with, all the writers who were excluded from literature for so long, my fellow authors of fantasy and science fiction—writers of the imagination, who for the last 50 years watched the beautiful rewards go to the so-called realists.

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 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. It’s name is freedom.

Thank you.

-Noemi Giszpenc, CDI Executive Director

Ursula K. Le Guin’s Powerful Speech, And The Need For Artist Cooperatives
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