I’m still reflecting on Ursula Le Guin’s speech at the National Book Awards last week. Because she’s an Oregon writer, it received even more attention here in Portland, and the standing ovation she received at the end of the speech was well-deserved. She threw in the barb that writers relegated to genres always throw in when welcomed into the literary fold, but beyond that she criticized the publishing industry and reminded the room about the duty of writers.
“We live in capitalism,” she said. “Its power seems inescapable.” She paused and looked up from her notes. “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 market is no place for art, and Le Guin’s hopeful words about writers who create worlds to test truths roused my spirits. Isn’t this the ultimate goal of all of this scribbling on the page? The allure of freedom?
Yet sharing our work seems to be just as central. A writer must have readers.
Publishing is usually referred to as an ‘industry,’ and increasingly the adjective ‘dying’ is affixed to it. To criticize Amazon for being a profiteer is like criticizing Walt Whitman for being long-winded. It’s in their nature. They dominate the digital market, and as the nascent self-publishing ‘industry’ grows, Amazon has a distribution network that no other company can offer–and if they could, Amazon would surely suffocate them through ‘competition.’
Invasive weeds choke the other plants in the garden, spreading their tendrils over the ground, plunging their roots into the soil, determined only to multiply. It’s life’s propagating force at its ugliest and most base, which is why we loathe them. A weed will be neither useful nor beautiful.
Beauty requires both body and soul. We respond to its order, its vibrant delicacy, its essential contradiction in balance with death.
“Urge and urge and urge,
Always the procreant urge of the world”
“All goes onward and outward, nothing collapses,
And to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier.”