The Jewels of Aptor, 1962
Captives of the Flame, 1963, revised 1968 (as Out of the Dead City)
The Towers of Toron, 1964
City of a Thousand Suns, 1965
The Ballad of Beta-2, 1965
Empire Star, 1966
The Einstein Intersection, 1967
The Fall of the Towers, 1970 (includes revised versions of Out of the Dead City, The Towers of Toron, and City of a Thousand Suns)
The Tides of Lust, 1973 (also known as Equinox)
Triton, 1976 (also known as Trouble on Triton)
Tales of Nevèrÿon, 1979
Neveryóna: Or, The Tale of Signs and Cities, 1983
Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand, 1984
Flight from Nevèrÿon, 1985
The Bridge of Lost Desire, 1987 (also known as Return to Nevèrÿon)
They Fly at Çiron, 1993
The Mad Man, 1994
Driftglass: Ten Tales of Speculative Fiction, 1971, revised and expanded 2003 (as Aye, and Gomorrah: Stories)
Distant Stars, 1981
Atlantis: Three Tales, 1995
The Jewel-Hinged Jaw: Notes on the Language of Science Fiction, 1977
The American Shore: Meditations on a Tale of Science Fiction by Thomas M. Disch, 1978
Heavenly Breakfast: An Essay on the Winter of Love, 1979
Starboard Wine: More Notes on the Language of Science Fiction, 1984
The Straits of Messina, 1987
The Motion of Light in Water: Sex and Science-Fiction Writing in the East Village, 1957-1965, 1988 (memoir)
Silent Interviews, 1994
Longer Views, 1996
Bread and Wine: An Erotic Tale of New York City, an Autobiographical Account, 1998
Shorter Views: Queer Thoughts and the Politics of the Paraliterary, 1999
Times Square Red, Times Square Blue, 1999
Nineteen Eighty-Four: Selected Letters, 2000
Quark: A Quarterly of Speculative Fiction, 1970-1971 (science-fiction periodical; with Marilyn Hacker)
In his remarkably candid account of his early life, The Motion of Light in Water, which was awarded the Hugo Award in 1989, Samuel Ray Delany describes himself as “a black man, a gay man, a writer.” Delany came to be acclaimed and respected as a writer of science fiction and as one of the most intelligent and demanding critics of the genre.
He was born in New York City to Margaret Cary Boyd Delany and Samuel Ray Delany, a prominent Harlem undertaker with whom, as he describes in The Motion of Light in Water, Delany had a distant and uneasy relationship. He attended the prestigious private Dalton School and the Bronx High School of Science, where he was a popular and bright student, though he had difficulties that he later learned stemmed from dyslexia. Some of Delany’s happiest times as a boy were spent during his summers from 1951 to 1956 at Camp Woodland. There he read science fiction, studied music, and first began to write.
At the Bronx High School of Science Delany met and became close to Marilyn Hacker, a young poet. He began writing in earnest and after graduation in 1960 received a fellowship to the Breadloaf Writers’ Conference in Vermont, where he met Robert Frost and other writers. He later attended the City College of New York but withdrew after one year, choosing to forgo the middle-class lifestyle in which he had grown up for a bohemian existence in the East Village of New York City.
Notwithstanding Delany’s early acceptance of his homosexuality, he and Hacker married in 1961 after she became pregnant (she miscarried a few months later). In their marriage, as previously in their friendship, Delany and Hacker read and criticized each other’s writing. It was Hacker who in 1962 suggested that Delany submit his novel The Jewels of Aptor to her employers at Ace Books. This became his first published book. From 1970 through 1971 Delany and Hacker edited the four issues of Quark, a speculative-fiction journal. Hacker became the model for Rydra Wong, the heroine of Babel-17, and her poems and personality figure in several of Delany’s other books.
A traditional marriage proved difficult for the two talented writers, especially given their different sexual orientations. The couple had an open marriage and often lived apart. During the 1960’s Delany lived in Texas, New York, San Francisco, and London. He suffered a nervous breakdown in 1964, but the next year he toured Europe and Greece. In the winter of 1967-1968 he lived in New York with a communal rock band, The Heavenly Breakfast, an experience he describes in his book of the same name. Delany and Hacker were legally separated in 1975, a year after the birth of a daughter, Iva Hacker-Delany, and they were divorced in 1980.
By the mid-1960’s Delany had become an established author with a strong reputation among science-fiction enthusiasts. In 1967 he was awarded a Nebula Award from the Science Fiction Writers of America for Babel-17. One year later Delany’s novel The Einstein Intersection was also recognized with a Nebula Award, and he was awarded the Hugo Award in 1970 for his short story “Time Considered as a Helix of Semi-Precious Stones.” In 1975 Delany’s massive novel Dhalgren became both a best-seller and a source of critical controversy because of its innovative form and content.
Delany also became active as a critic and theorist. He lectured at the State University of New York in Buffalo in 1975, was Fellow at the Center for Twentieth Century Studies at the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee from 1976 to 1977, and taught at Cornell University in 1987; since 1988 he has taught one semester a year at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. He published essays in several collections and in many magazines and journals. His complex critical essays deal with structuralism and semiotics in ways that are seldom applied to the science-fiction genre. In The American Shore he spent two hundred pages deconstructing a twenty-page science-fiction story by Thomas M. Dish. In 1985 he received the Pilgrim Award for achievement in science-fiction criticism from the Science Fiction Research Association, and in 1995 he was the official guest of honor at the World Science Fiction Convention in Glasgow, Scotland.
Delany’s science fiction reflects and examines the languages and signs that constitute the late twentieth century world. Grounded in lives he has known on the margins of society, extrapolating not only technological but also social and economic trends, Delany manages to be both popular and esoteric. In The Ballad of Beta-2, Babel-17, The Einstein Intersection, and Nova he explores the mutations of myth and the functions of language. In Triton and Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand he considers the effects of a shift from a cash to a credit economy. The Nevèrÿon fantasy series deconstructs the “sword-and-sorcery” genre and suggests how civilization, and writing itself, might have begun. Sex and sexual themes are common to many of Delany’s science-fiction novels, and he has published several literary pornographic novels.
With its basis in literary theory and linguistics–and its exploration of sexual and social alternatives–Delany’s work is often controversial. All his fiction is marked by the quest for personal freedom and for the fullest realization of human potential in the flux of social and human relations. Because Delany’s criticism strives to explain and define the functions of science fiction to a mass audience, his work serves as a bridge between worlds: black and white, marginal and mainstream, gay and straight, popular and academic.