Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Ursula Le Guin on the future of literature

Last month, science fiction and fantasy write Ursula Le Guin received the USA’s National Book Foundation's Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. The video above is her acceptance speech, and it’s pretty awesome.

She made a strong defence of science fiction and fantasy writers, and all writers and artists, and their role:
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.
All of which is very true. Artists can imagine a better world than we now have, and can help us make sense of the world we’re in now. But one of the potential barriers is capitalism itself. Le Guin again:
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.
The business model for publishers is increasingly focused only what will sell big, with dwindling space on their lists for smaller or riskier books. The answer for some has been self-publishing through various e-book platforms, which can be a very good option—for some.

But not all authors are capable of doing what is still the more or less specialised work of producing e-books and, much harder, effectively marketing them. Even so, I believe that the future of publishing is digital, and that in the future niche authors will be able to find a market though that medium.

Which is not to say that printed books are going away, because they’re not—at least, not for a very long time. But we’re already thinking more broadly about what the word book means, and we’re becoming far less judgemental about the source—a publishing company or self-published. This has profound implications for the wide availability of varied voices and viewpoints, and I think that’s a good thing.

The future doesn’t have to be a dark and scary place. The artists will help us find our way.

Tip o' the Hat to BillMoyers.com. A complete transcript is also available from Parker Higgins.

No comments: