Delany, Samuel R.

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Delany, Samuel R.

April 1, 1942

Born in Harlem in comfortable circumstances, science fiction writer and critic Samuel R. Delany graduated from the Bronx High School of Science and briefly attended City College of New York. Despite serious dyslexia, he embarked early on a literary career, publishing his first novel, The Jewels of Aptor, in 1962. Delany has been a rather prolific writer, and by the time of his eighth novel, The Einstein Intersection (1967), he had already achieved star status in science fiction. He was the first African American to devote his career to this genre. Delany won the Nebulaone of science fiction's two most prestigious awardsin 1967, twice in 1968, and again in 1969. He received the other major science fiction award, the Hugo, in 1968 and 1989 (the latter for his autobiography). Today, he is considered to be one of the wide-ranging masters of the field, having produced books of sword-and-sorcery fantasy as well as science fiction. In addition, he has established himself as a rigorous and erudite theorist and critic of what he calls "the science fiction enterprise."

From a perspective of African-American literary history, Delany is noteworthy in part because he was the first significant black figure in a field with which, previously, African Americans at best had had a tangential relationship. Still, he was not the first writer to introduce black themes or characters into science fiction; indeed, he has written of how startled he was to discover, deep into the novel, that the hero of Robert Heinlein's Starship Troopers (1959) was non-Caucasian. Early in his own career, in fact, Delany's blackness certainly was not evident to the majority of his readers. However, his real importance depends, first, upon the way his work has focused on the problematic aspects of desire, difference, and the nature of freedom. In his four-volume Nevèrÿon fantasy series (19831987), these themes are played out in a mythical past. In The Tides of Lust (1973) and Dhalgren (1975), the site is a kind of mythical present; and in Triton (1976) and Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand (1984), the setting is the far future. Many of the same concerns found in his fiction are articulated in his autobiography, The Motion of Light in Water (1988). Delany's second major contribution is his successful meshing of postmodern critical thought with the discourses of science fiction and fantasy. He has brought to these often scorned forms a narrative depth and linguistic sophistication they had seldom previously displayed.

In 1961 Delany married the poet Marilyn Hacker. The two separated in 1975. They have a daughter, Iva Alyxander, born in 1974. Delany taught at the State University of New York at Buffalo, the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, Cornell University, and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Delany was also a fellow at the University of Michigan's Institute for the Humanities in 1993. He joined the faculty of Temple University in 2001 as a professor of English and creative writing.

See also Butler, Octavia; Literature of the United States


Delany, Samuel R. The Straits of Messina. Seattle: Serconia Press, 1989.

Fox, Robert Elliot. Conscientious Sorcerers: The Black Postmodernist Fiction of LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka, Ishmael Reed, and Samuel R. Delany. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1987.

The Review of Contemporary Fiction 16, no. 3 (Fall 1996): 90171.

robert elliot fox (1996)

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Delany, Samuel R.

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