Media accounts of Ursula K. Le Guin’s speech at the recent National Book Awards portrayed it as a full-out assault on Amazon and new publishing. They also gave the impression that the speech was received with general acclamation.
Watching the speech, one sees that Le Guin’s remarks were as much an attack on Big Five publishing as against any alternative. She mentions “all the writers who were excluded from literature” (Underground Literary Alliance, anyone?) and speaks of “the producers who write the books.”
Well, yes! The writers ARE the chief value in literature. DIY publishing is one way to give the writer full control over his-or-her art, which isn’t the case in legacy publishing. The old way of doing things puts the writer as supplicant, subservient to the agents, editors, and others who wield power in the Manhattan skyscrapers.
Le Guin spoke of “writers who can remember freedom.” We’d argue that writers OUTSIDE the established publishing system have more freedom over their words. There’s no “go-along-to-get-along” game playing involved in Do-It-Yourself.
Even Le Guin’s much-talked-about critique of capitalism might be better understood as an attack on old-fashioned crony-style capitalism; gigantic oligopolies like publishing’s “Big Five” than on individual entrepreneurs– those who use Amazon merely as delivery system for their art. Should Amazon ever try to exercise the monopoly power they’re accused of having, fresh alternatives would quickly be found. As Amazon itself likely knows better than anyone. This is a changing world– where power belongs to the artist. If said artist is willing to take it!
It must also be said, in looking at the video of Ursula Le Guin’s speech, that audience response during the speech was nervous; the applause when it was over, tepid. Members of the apparatus aren’t as brave as they portray themselves– certainly not when their bosses are in attendance!
We’ll give the final words in this post to Ursula Le Guin, adding only that truer words couldn’t be spoken: “–resistance and change begin in art, and often in our art.”