Ursula K. Le Guin’s dangerous imagination

“The exercise of imagination is dangerous to those who profit from the way things are…” Ursula K. Le Guin

― The Wave in the Mind: Talks and Essays on the Writer, the Reader and the Imagination (Amazon aff link)

This is for you, the writers Ursula K. Le Guin called writers of the imagination, but also for the readers. Because we can change the world, now when it is so clear it needs changing. And, so, please, if you haven’t watched this speech by Ursula K. Le Guin, chastising her entire industry at an award ceremony shortly before her death, then enjoy.

If you see books as revelation, and not as a commodity, then you will be cheering by the end-even knowing there’s not much room for us now that the almighty algorithm rules any ideas other than making money right off the table. That we can, as writers, create the ideas that break past the blinkers of acceptable thought…

Ursula K. Le Guin’s National Book Award Speech

I’ve always been fond of Ursula Le Guin’s writing. The Word for World Is Forest, for me was one of her most haunting works, until Lavinia. Challenging, poignant, important, and haunting, Lavinia is Ursula Le Guin’s ultimate masterpiece…not counting this speech.

It’s amazing, because nearly every word is as weighted as it is uplifting. Listen.

“We will not know our own injustice if we cannot imagine justice. We will not be free if we do not imagine freedom. We cannot demand that anyone try to attain justice and freedom who has not had a chance to imagine them as attainable.”

Ursula Le Guin pulls no punches that the beautiful reward is not numbers of books sold, or money, it is about our place at the table to re-frame the status quo, to look to create a better world.

Ursula Le Guin - Ursula K. Le Guin 
Photo by Marian Wood Kolisch
 CC BY-SA 2.0
Ursula K. Le Guin. Photo by Marian Wood Kolisch

That better world is needed now more than ever. And to create it we need everyone’s voices. The repressed and underrepresented, the minority voices, too long silenced.

The quote and the power of the storyteller

And at the beginning, I quoted: “The exercise of imagination is dangerous to those who profit from the way things are…”

It’s now time to finish the quote.

…because it has the power to show that the way things are is not permanent, not universal, not necessary. Having that real though limited power to put established institutions into question, imaginative literature has also the responsibility of power. The storyteller is the truthteller.”

For, as Ursula K.Le Guin said, “We live in capitalism, it’s power seems inescapable…so did the divine right of kings.”

It’s past time to imagine freedom, especially now that lives are being thrown onto the altar of the almighty dollar – human sacrifices to a false god.

I imagine freedom.

I remember a freedom that never was, but could still be.

Do you?


PS If you’re interested in Ursula’s work, some of her better known fiction and non fiction works can be found here.

PPS “To Light a Candle is to cast a Shadow” The piece I wrote on my Affliction of Poetry blog on the sad news of Ursula Le Guin’s passing.

PPPS Also, for years, my pinned tweet was this article from brain pickings. It’s a fantastic article, which currently covers not just Ursula Le Guin, but her views on American injustice, slavery and flexible resistance. I think it’s well worth a read.

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