Samuel R(ay) Delany Biography
Nationality: American. Born: New York City, 1942. Education: The Dalton School and Bronx High School of Science, both New York; City College of New York (poetry editor, Promethean), 1960, 1962-63. Career: Butler Professor of English, State University of New York, Buffalo, 1975; Fellow, Center for Twentieth Century Studies, University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, 1977; since 1988 professor of comparative literature, University of Massachusetts. Awards: Nebula award, 1966, 1967 (twice), 1969; Hugo award, 1970.
The Jewels of Aptor. New York, Ace, 1962; revised edition, NewYork, Ace, and London, Gollancz, 1968; London, Sphere, 1971; Boston, Gregg Press, 1977.
The Fall of the Towers (revised texts). New York, Ace, 1970; London, Sphere, 1971.
Captives of the Flame. New York, Ace, 1963; revised edition, asOut of the Dead City, London, Sphere, 1968; New York, Ace, 1977.
The Towers of Toron. New York, Ace, 1964; revised edition, London, Sphere, 1968.
City of a Thousand Suns. New York, Ace, 1965; revised edition, London, Sphere, 1969.
The Ballad of Beta-2. New York, Ace, 1965.
Babel-17. New York, Ace, 1966; London, Gollancz, 1967; revised edition, London, Sphere, 1969; Boston, Gregg Press, 1976.
Empire Star. New York, Ace, 1966.
The Einstein Intersection. New York, Ace, 1967; London, Gollancz, 1968.
Nova. New York, Doubleday, 1968; London, Gollancz, 1969.
The Tides of Lust. New York, Lancer, 1973; Manchester, Savoy, 1979.
Dhalgren. New York, Bantam, 1975; revised edition, Boston, GreggPress, 1977.
Triton. New York, Bantam, 1976; London, Corgi, 1977.
The Ballad of Beta-2, and Empire Star. London, Sphere, 1977.
Empire: A Visual Novel, illustrated by Howard V. Chaykin. NewYork, Berkley, 1978.
Nevèrÿona; or, The Tale of Signs and Cities. New York, Bantam, 1983; London, Grafton, 1989.
Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand. New York, Bantam, 1984.
Flight from Nevèrÿon. New York, Bantam, 1985; London, Grafton, 1989.
The Bridge of Lost Desire. New York, Arbor House, 1987.
The Straits of Messina. Seattle, Serconia Press, 1989.
Return to Nevèrÿon. London, Grafton, 1989; Hanover, New Hampshire, Wesleyan University Press, 1994.
They Fly at Ciron. Seattle, Incunabula, 1993.
The Mad Man. New York, Masquerade Books, 1994.
Hogg. Normal, Illinois, FC2, 1998.
Driftglass: 10 Tales of Speculative Fiction. New York, Doubleday, 1971; London, Gollancz, 1978.
Tales of Nevèrÿon. New York, Bantam, 1979; London, Grafton, 1988.
Distant Stars. New York, Bantam, 1981.
The Complete Nebula-Award Winning Fiction. New York, Bantam, 1986.
Atlantis: Three Tales. Hanover, New Hampshire, University Press ofNew England, 1995.
The Jewel-Hinged Jaw: Notes on the Language of Science Fiction. Elizabethtown, New York, Dragon Press, 1977.
The American Shore: Meditations on a Tale of Science Fiction by Thomas M. Disch—"Angouleme." Elizabethtown, New York, Dragon Press, 1978.
Heavenly Breakfast: An Essay on the Winter of Love (memoir). NewYork, Bantam, 1979.
Starboard Wine: More Notes on the Language of Science Fiction. Pleasantville, New York, Dragon Press, 1984.
The Motion of Light in Water: Sex and Science Fiction Writing in the East Village 1957-1965. New York, Arbor House, 1988; with The Column at the Market's Edge, London, Paladin, 1990.
Wagner-Artaud: A Play of 19th and 20th Century Critical Fictions. New York, Ansatz Press, 1988.
Silent Interviews: On Language, Race, Sex, Science Fiction, and Some Comics. Hanover, New Hampshire, Wesleyan University Press, 1994.
Longer Views: Extended Essays. Hanover, New Hampshire, University Press of New England, 1996.
Bread and Wine: an Erotic Tale of New York City: an Autobiographical Account, Illustrated by Mia Wolff with an introduction by Alan Moore. New York, Juno Books, 1998.
Times Square Red, Times Square Blue. New York, New YorkUniversity Press, 1999.
Shorter Views: Queer Thoughts and the Politics of the Paraliterary. Hanover, New Hampshire, University Press of New England, 1999.
Editor, with Marilyn Hacker, Quark 1-4. New York, PaperbackLibrary, 4 vols., 1970-71.
Editor, Nebula Winners 13. New York, Harper, 1980.
Mugar Memorial Library, Boston University.
The Delany Intersection: Samuel R. Delany Considered as a Writer of Semi-Precious Words by George Edgar Slusser, San Bernardino, California, Borgo Press, 1977; Worlds Out of Words: The SF Novels of Samuel R. Delany by Douglas Barbour, Frome, Somerset, Bran's Head, 1979; Samuel R. Delany by Jane Weedman, Mercer Island, Washington, Starmont House, 1982; Samuel R. Delany by Seth McEvoy, New York, Ungar, 1983; Ash of Stars: On the Writing of Samuel R. Delany, edited by James Sallis. Jackson, University Press of Mississippi, 1996.
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Although Samuel R. Delany began his literary career at the age of 20 with The Jewels of Aptor, quickly followed by the Fall of the Towers trilogy and The Ballad of Beta-2, it wasn't until the prolific 1966-69 period—Empire Star, the Nebula-winning novels Babel-17 and The Einstein Intersection, the Nebula-winning story "Aye, and Gomorrah…", Nova, and the Hugo/Nebula-winning "Time Considered as a Helix of Semi-Precious Stones"—that Delany's literary power would reverberate throughout the science fiction (sf) community. It is in this early period that we can tease out the thematic threads Delany masterfully weaves throughout the corpus of his work. Specifically, Delany is interested in the interactions among mythology, anthropology, linguistic theory, cultural history, psychology, poststructuralism, sociology, philosophy, and the quest/adventure story.
Quite often, Delany guides the reader through his complex worlds using figures of the socially outcast artist and/or criminal who, by their marginalized nature, pull at the underlying fabric of what constitutes reality. For example, Babel-17, a novel of galactic warfare, tells the story of poet Rydra Wong and her attempt to decipher communications intercepted from the Invaders by the Alliance. Wong soon discovers an unknown language and, in the process of deciphering these communications, both Wong and the reader are enlightened about the nature of language and its ability to structure reality. Of particular interest is the web, a symbol of interconnectedness and isolation suggesting that language can both constrain and structure reality.
The Einstein Intersection follows a race of aliens who, attempting to understand the post-apocalyptic Earth, take on corporeal form and immerse themselves in human myths, traditions, and archetypes. Unable to create their own culture out of the remnant world they occupy, the aliens encounter salvation in the form of "difference," embodied in the Black musician Lobey. Playing music on his murderous machete, Lobey, who is both Orpheus and Theseus, cleaves through the old myths to create the order upon which the alien civilization can thrive. The novel is a treatise on difference and explores the patterns of interaction among myths, archetypes, imagination, and the conscious mind. The Einstein Intersection is further enhanced with Delany's own diaries providing part of the novel's text.
Nova is Delany's unique take on space opera, offering readers Prometheus and the Grail legend woven into a quest for the much-valued fuel illyrion, located in the heart of a nova star. The narrative follows the Mouse, a musician playing the sensory-syrnynx, and his role in the epic struggle between, on one side, Captain Lorq Von Ray and, on the other, Prince and Ruby Red. George Slusser notes in The Delany Intersection that Delany has inverted the traditional epic by offering us a narrative wherein men do not struggle against an inhuman system so much as within an unhuman one.
Following Nova, Delany released The Tides of Lust, a non-sf pornographic novel with traits of the fantastic. Peter Nicholls writes in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction that the sadomasochism of the novel is reminiscent of a "Baudelairean ritual of passage." This text occupies an important place in Delany's work as it was in the mid-1970s that his homosexuality became generally known; consequently, his work following Tides of Lust adds the cultural interplay of eroticism and love to his already extensive thematic interests.
From 1969 to 1973—a period that also saw Delany publish short stories, develop essays that would later appear in such studies as The Jewel-Hinged Jaw: Notes on the Language of Science Fiction, and edit four sf quarterlies—Delany put together his controversial 879-page opus Dhalgren. The narrative—which some critics do not consider sf proper—follows the anonymous Kid who embarks on a series of adventures in Bellona, an orderless city resting under the double-mooned sky of a familiar U.S. setting. The novel, according to Douglas Barbour's entry in Science Fiction Writers, is symbolized in the chain the Kid receives prior to entering Bellona; namely, "it wraps in upon itself, a long, looped chain of mirrors, prisms, and lenses." Indeed, Dhalgren, like the earlier Empire Star, is both self-conscious and self-reflexive, evidenced in the novel the Kid writes which may be Dhalgren itself and, in Joycean style, the first sentence bringing an open-ended closure to the unfinished final sentence. Variously, the novel is about the tension between reality and reality models, the trials and tribulations of a writer's craft, and the representation of human lives with all their comedic, psychological, sociological, erotic, and emotional baggage.
Delany's next novel, Triton, is very much science fiction in its offering of a futuristic setting with technological advances and distinctly alien modes of relating to reality. In this novel, subtitled An Ambiguous Heterotopia, Delany explores future societies structured along sexual lines. The novel is particularly unique as the female protagonist, the former man Bron Helstrom, is an alienated character with whom the reader is not supposed to identify. Bron struggles through the course of the novel as her outdated twentieth-century misogyny rubs up against the sexual egalitarianism of Neptune's moon, Triton. In the end, Bron remains locked into herself, alienated and trapped "in social and psychological stasis," as Barbour writes. One can't help but hear Delany speaking to the persecution of women, homosexuals, and multisexuals through Triton's narrative.
The 1980s saw Delany shift tactics, infusing his science fiction with the magical scenery of sword-and-sorcery fantasy. The Nevèrÿon Series—Tales of Nevèrÿon, Nevèrÿona, Flight from Nevèrÿon, and The Bridge of Lost Desire—continues to explore Delany's multiple interests, especially the issue of slavery as it appears in both economic and erotic economies. The Nevèrÿon Series demonstrates Delany's self-reflexivity—exemplified in the appendices wherein Delany re-flects on the creative process and, in the later books, makes direct references to the contemporary AIDS epidemic—as well as his profound understanding of how lives are affected by cultural shifts in reality.
For many critics, Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand revealed an increasingly complex, richly textured, and smoother Samuel Delany. The narrative, involving interstellar politics set in a galactic civilization, seeks to explore large social ethical expectations, all the while offering the reader a love story, an exploration of the variety of human relationships, and the mysterious magnetism of sexual attraction. At the time of its publication, Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand was intended to be a diptych, but the long-awaited sequel, The Splendor and Misery of Bodies, of Cities, although slated for a mid-1990s release, has not yet appeared.
From Harlem of the 1970s, which inspired the city wreckage of Dhalgren, through the sexual interactions in Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand, inspired by New York City's sexual variety, and culminating in the echoes of the Port Authority Bus Terminal in The Nevèrÿon Series, New York looms large in Delany's writings. In the 1990s, Delany's non-fiction focuses on weaving his sexuality into the fabric of New York (especially the former porn theatres of Eighth Avenue) and exploring the face of the homeless, embodied in his partner, Dennis Rickett, who spent six years living on the streets. Delany's autobiographical reflections on New York City are the lifeblood of Bread & Wine: An Erotic Tale of New York; Heavenly Breakfast, an Essay on the Winter of Love; Atlantis: Three Tales; The Motion of Light in Water; Sex and Science Fiction Writing in the East Village, 1960-1965 ; and Times Square Red, Times Square Blue (Sexual Cultures).
The 1990s also saw Delany return to the fictive terrain of The Tides of Lust with a trio of novels—Equinox (a reprint of The Tides of Lust), The Mad Man and Hogg—that have been described as anti-pornographic. Through these texts, Delany engages both his own sexuality and depicts sexual escapades and violence in an unflinching manner, all the while calling for the valuation of sexual tolerance. As usual, Delany's theory and fiction intersect and intertwine into a complex exploration; specifically, Delany, as he notes in Silent Interviews, is interested in the relationship between eroticization and class relations and, consequently, in who benefits and loses in the act of eroticization.
Finally, the 1990s has seen a Delany renaissance, thanks in large part to Wesleyan University Press undertaking the task of reprinting Dhalgren, Trouble on Triton, and The Einstein Intersection as well as re-issuing The Nevèrÿon Series. With Delany's 1984—a collection of 56 letters and documents—and Shorter Views: Queer Thoughts & the Politics of the Paraliterary both slated for a 2000 release, Samuel Delany's impact bodes well for a new millennium of science fiction, literary criticism, pornography, historical fiction, and autobiography.
—Graham J. Murphy