I don’t know why, but whenever I hear the word “manifesto”, I’m always reminded of Italian food. “Do you want grated parmesan on your Manifesto?” “Hmmmm, I never saw Manifesto made with Alfredo sauce before….”
It seems that back in October a group of authors within our literary ghetto decided that it was time to declare a NEW LITERARY MOVEMENT. A new literary movement that we know will have impact and gravitas because it has a manifesto. And makes declarations about how important it is for the future survival of right-thinking humanity. Because, you know.
I had lots of verbiage here describing why I didn’t think it was such a good idea and how the manifesto reminds me of McCarthyism, but after listening to Ursula Le Guin’s award acceptance speech, I realized that all of my words really just distracted from the main message. One that Ms. Le Guin delivered with great eloquence.
I don’t think that other movement is for me. I’d rather jump on Ursula Le Guin’s bandwagon. (And just sos you knows, Ursula puts “messages” into her stories. Big, unweildy, messy ones. She’s been doing it a long time – none better . She knows that she should write what she wants to write and that her readers are fully capable of accepting, rejecting, ignoring or adopting those “messages” all by their lonesome.)
When Ms. Le Guin accepted the National Book Award for Distinguished Contributions to American Letters, she did so by including others. Many, many others. She then went on to define an issue that faces everyone in the arts, regardless of the politics they may hold dear. Ursula Le Guin bearded the lion in its den, and in so doing showed us in which direction movement is really needed:
“My family, my agent, my editors, know that my being here is their doing as well as mine and that the beautiful reward is theirs as much as mine, and I rejoice in accepting it for and sharing it with all the writers who were excluded from literature for so long, my fellow authors of fantasy and science fiction. Writers of the imagination who, for the last fifty years, have watched the beautiful rewards go to the so-called realists.
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.
We will need writers who can remember freedom, poets, visionaries, the realists of a larger reality.
Right now, I think 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 maximize corporate profit and advertising revenue, is not quite the same thing as responsible book publishing or authorship. 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 ebook 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 fatwah 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 and what to write.
Books, they’re not just commodities. The profit motive is often in conflict with the aims of art. We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. 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, and very often in our art, the art of words.
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”
That’s the kind of manifesto I can get behind.