Person walking with a sled across a fantasy winter landscape

Our roots are in the dark

“Success is somebody else’s failure. Success is the American Dream and we can keep dreaming because most people in most places, including 30 million of ourselves, live wide awake in the terrible reality of poverty. No, I do not wish you success. I don’t even want to talk about it. I want to talk about failure,” Ursula Le Guin giving a commencement address at Mills College in 1983.

“Because you are human beings, you are going to meet failure. You are going to meet disappointment, injustice, betrayal, and irreparable loss. You will find you’re weak where you thought yourself strong. You’ll work for possessions and then find they possess you. You will find yourself – as I know you already have – in dark places, alone, and afraid.

“What I hope for you, for all my sisters and daughters, brothers and sons, is that you will be able to live there, in the dark place. To live in the place that our rationalizing culture of success denies, calling it a place of exile, uninhabitable, foreign…

“…And when you fail, and are defeated, and in pain, and in the dark, then I hope you will remember that darkness is your country, where you live, where no wars are fought and no wars are won, but where the future is. Our roots are in the dark; the earth is our country. Why did we look up for blessing – instead of around, and down? What hope we have lies there.”


From Ursula Le Guin, ‘A Left Handed Commencement Address’ (1983), printed in the collection of essays Dancing at the End of the World.

Contains many other gems and powerful words, including ‘The Princess‘ (a 1982 speech to the Portland branch of the National Abortion Rights Action League) and ‘The Space Crone’ – an amazing piece about the status of post-menopausal women.

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