Last night, fantasy and science fiction writer Ursula Le Guin, author of The Left Hand of Darkness and the Earthsea series, won the medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters at the National Book Awards. She gave a speech about the importance of fantasy in a world of ugly realities.

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After accepting her award, Le Guin said:

Hard times are coming, when we'll be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now, can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine real grounds for hope. We'll need writers who can remember freedom – poets, visionaries – realists of a larger reality.

Right now, we need writers who know the difference between production of a market commodity and the practice of an art. Developing written material to suit sales strategies in order to maximise corporate profit and advertising revenue is not the same thing as responsible book publishing or authorship ...

Books aren't just commodities; the profit motive is often in conflict with the aims of art. We live in capitalism, its power seems inescapable – but then, 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. Very often in our art, the art of words.

This comes from the writer who once scoffed, brilliantly, that "fake realism is the escapism of our time."

You can read a recent profile of Le Guin in The Guardian.