Authors: Samuel R. Delany

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American novelist and critic

Identity: African American, gay or bisexual

Author Works

Long Fiction:

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

Babel-17, 1966

The Einstein Intersection, 1967

Nova, 1968

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)

Dhalgren, 1975

Triton, 1976 (also known as Trouble on Triton)

Empire, 1978

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)

Hogg, 1993

They Fly at Çiron, 1993

The Mad Man, 1994

Short Fiction:

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

Edited Text:

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.{$I[AN]9810001306}{$I[A]Delany, Samuel R.}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Delany, Samuel R.}{$I[geo]AFRICAN AMERICAN/AFRICAN DESCENT;Delany, Samuel R.}{$I[geo]GAY OR BISEXUAL;Delany, Samuel R.}{$I[tim]1942;Delany, Samuel R.}

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.

BibliographyBarbour, Douglas. Worlds Out of Words: The SF Novels of Samuel R. Delany. London: Bran’s Head Books, 1979. This fairly early critique of Delany’s works gives a brief biography of Delany and a general discussion of his works, before concentrating on different aspects such as cultural, literary, and mythological allusions and some individual works. Includes notes and primary bibliography.Dery, Mark. “Black to the Future: Interviews with Samuel R. Delany, Greg Tate, and Tricia Rose.” The South Atlantic Quarterly 92 (Fall, 1993): 735-778. Examines why so few African Americans write science fiction, since it is a genre in which encounters with the Other are central; discusses these matters with Delany and others.Fox, Robert Elliot. Conscientious Sorcerers: The Black Postmodernist Fiction of LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka, Ishmael Reed, and Samuel R. Delany. New York: Greenwood Press, 1987. Fox’s text is useful for comparing and contrasting Delany’s writing with that of his contemporaries in black fiction. Despite the gulf between their genres, Fox manages to find some similarity in the styles and subjects of these writers. Contains bibliographical information and an index.Freedman, Carl. Critical Theory and Science Fiction. Hanover, N.H.: Wesleyan University Press, 2000. One chapter is devoted to a reading of Stars in My Pockets Like Grains of Sand.Gawron, Jean Mark. Introduction to Dhalgren, by Samuel R. Delany. Reprint. Boston: Gregg Press, 1977. Gawron’s forty-three-page introduction to this edition is an excellent starting point for readers wishing to deal with the complexities of Delany’s longest single work. The Gregg Press reprint series includes textually accurate hardbound editions of Delany’s major works through Triton. The introductions by various critics and scholars are especially helpful.Kelso, Sylvia. “’Across Never’: Postmodern Theory and Narrative Praxis in Samuel R. Delany’s Nevèrÿon Cycle.” Science-Fiction Studies 24 (July, 1997): 289-301. Argues that Derridean theory supplies the “Symbolic Order” of the blurred margins and centerless structure of Delany’s Nevèrÿon cycle and that Michel Foucault’s use of sadomasochistic experience is imaged in the cycle’s “homoerotic Imaginary.”McEvoy, Seth. Samuel R. Delany. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1984. Much of the information in this text comes from personal interviews that McEvoy did with Delany. The book covers biographical information and interpretation of individual works, including short fiction as well as long fiction. Complemented by notes to the chapters and an index.Peplow, Michael W., and Robert S. Bravard. Samuel R. Delany: A Primary Bibliography, 1962-1979. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1980. This exhaustive bibliography is the best starting reference book about Delany’s early life and career. The introduction includes a lengthy biographical sketch, and the primary and secondary bibliographies list virtually all writings by and about Delany up to 1979.Reid-Pharr, Robert F. “Disseminating Heterotopia” African American Review 28 (Fall, 1994): 347-357. Discusses how Delany confronts traditional ideas of proper identity and community politics, deconstructing lines between black and white communities and homosexual and heterosexual communities.Review of Contemporary Fiction 16 (Fall, 1996). Special issue on Delany with essays on his novels and his science-fiction theory and criticism. Features an essay on his tales and an interview with Delany in which he discusses his theory of science fiction and his ideas about science fiction as a genre and a way of reading.Sallis, James, ed. Ash of Stars: On the Writing of Samuel R. Delany. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1996. An excellent source for information on Delany’s life and work. Includes a bibliography and an index.Slusser, George Edgar. The Delany Intersection: Samuel R. Delany Considered as a Writer of Semi-Precious Words. San Bernardino, Calif.: Borgo Press, 1977. This text sets out the structuralist interpretation of Delany’s works, using Delany’s literary criticism pieces to judge his own writing. Also traces the evolution of Delany’s work from heroic epics to psychological fiction and beyond. Brief biographical and bibliographical notes.Tucker, Jeffrey Allen. A Sense of Wonder: Samuel R. Delany, Race, Identity, and Difference. Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 2004. A sophisticated analysis of Delany’s work within the framework of postmodernism. Includes bibliography and index.Weedman, Jane. Samuel R. Delany. Mercer Island, Wash.: Starmont House, 1982. Weedman discusses a wide range of subjects, including influences on Delany’s writing, biographical events, stylistic and critical concepts, and Delany’s development as a writer. A detailed chronology can be found at the beginning of the book, and annotated primary and secondary bibliographies have been included at its end. Also includes an index.
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