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Ursula LeGuin Stirs Things Up at National Book Awards

by on February 24, 2015

On November 19, 2014, the 65th annual National Book Awards took place. Many in the literary world were present, and those that were are grateful for  Youtube. The night’s most scandalous moment was provided by Ursula K. Le Guin, who took Amazon to task while accepting her award.

Le Guin, honored for her distinguished contribution to American letters, spoke stridently in defense of science fiction and of all writers and publishers, “I rejoice in accepting [this prize] for, and sharing it with, all the writers who were excluded from literature for so long: my fellow authors of fantasy and science fiction. Later in the speech, Le Guin’s remarks became more pointed, stating, “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 e-book 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, what to write.”

The profiteer in question was Amazon who, during its seven month battle over pricing with Hachette Book Group Publishers, took steps that were heavily criticized by some authors, including removing preorder buttons on Hachette titles and reputedly delaying shipment of some books. The preorders are often used as a marker for bestseller lists and orders for bookstores. By eliminating these options, Amazon was indirectly affecting the sales and promotion of these titles as well as future sales from this publisher and these authors associated with Hachette Book Group.

Some of the other highlights of the night’s awards were former Marine Phil Klay taking home top prize for fiction for Redeployment, his debut story collection, while Louise Gluck won the poetry prize for Faithful and Virtuous Night. Other awards were given to nonfiction writer Evan Osnos for Age of Ambition and young adult literature author Jacqueline Woodson for her memoir Brown Girl Dreaming.

The night however, belonged to Le Guin. Amazon was in attendance at the awards ceremony but declined to comment on her speech. Nevertheless, many others cheered and applauded with admiration for her.

Cover Photo Credit: Ellen Forsyth (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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