I’ve just lived through, for instance, the granting of the National Book Award in fiction. It turned out to be impossible for me to persuade my fellow judges to consider seriously any work of literature which could be classified generically as science fiction. I have good news for you. One of the best writers of science fiction in the United States at the moment, which is to say one of the best writers of fiction in the U.S. at the present moment, Ursula LeGuin sneaked a prize as a writer of juveniles, an already ghettoized category that made it possible, and if you are juvenile to begin with, it doesn’t even matter if it is juvenile science fiction. But when Ursula LeGuin stood up, what she said was beautiful. In her acceptance speech, she said, “I hope this is felt as a prize not for juveniles but for science fiction, for all the fantasy literature.” The only way of rendering any sense of the reality of American life at the present moment is through fantasy. Our lives are indeed fantastic. It is not impossible to write fiction now. But it is impossible to write traditional fiction, the novel as high art, the novel as experimental art, the novel as avant-garde, the novel as realistic art. Only shock science fiction, fantasy, can render our lives.
From Leslie Fiedler’s 1973 address to the Third National Meeting of the Popular Culture Association. LeGuin won the 1973 National Book Award in the “Children’s” category for her excellent novel The Farthest Shore.