Watch sci-fi legend Ursula K. Le Guin's moving National Book Awards speech

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Nov 21, 2014, 10:28 AM EST

Ursula K. Le Guin is a titan of genre fiction, one of the greats, a living legend if ever there was one. In a career spanning more than five decades she's influenced generations of writers in all genres with works like the Earthsea series, The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed, and her writing has earned Hugo Awards, Nebula Awards, World Fantasy Awards, Locus Awards and a National Book Award for her 1972 Earthsea novel, The Farthest Shore. Now she's got one more particularly prestigious award to add to the list.

Wednesday, at the annual National Book Awards ceremony, Le Guin was presented with the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, a lifetime achievement award that's also been given to fellow genre luminaries Ray Bradbury and Stephen King. After she was given the award by friend and fellow novelist Neil Gaiman, Le Guin gave a stirring six-minute speech that began with a celebration of science fiction and fantasy literature.

"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," she said. "We will need writers who can remember freedom. Poets, visionaries—the realists of a larger reality."

Le Guin went on to criticize the increasing commodification of books, taking aim at publishers who mark up ebook costs for public libraries, Amazon.com ("a profiteer" which tried to "punish a publisher for disobedience") and more. Her ultimate point was a noble one: Writing shouldn't be a slave to corporate greed or marketing strategies, and authors shouldn't hamper themselves to fit such a system.

"I have had a long career and a good one. In good company. Now here, at the end of it, I really don’t want to watch American literature get sold down the river. We who live by writing and publishing want—and should demand—our fair share of the proceeds. But the name of our beautiful reward is not profit. Its name is freedom."

The whole speech, in the video below, is well worth watching, because it's not just warm and caring and frank. It's a living legend of fiction telling it like it is, and we should listen to her while we still have the chance.

(Via The Mary Sue)