Samuel Ray Delany - Biography
Samuel Ray Delany, Jr. (1942-) is a literary and cultural critic. In addition, he has written memoirs. Samuel Ray Delany is currently the Director of the Graduate Level Creative Writing Program at Temple University. However, Samuel Ray Delany is best known for his science-fiction writing. Samuel Ray Delany has won a Stonewall Book Award, two Hugo Awards and four Nebula Awards. In 2002, he was honored by his induction into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame. Delany’s most celebrated novels include Babel-17, Nova, Dhalgren, The Einstein Intersection, and Return to Neveryon. His work often addresses issues of social construction and sexuality as well as the themes of perception, mythology, memory, and language. Always willing to try new genres, Buber wrote music and film reviews for Fantasy and Science Fiction. He also created the short films The Orchard andTiresias. Selections of his short fiction were also turned into radio plays. He also began teaching for the Clarion Writer’s Workshop.
In examining language, the written word is of particular interest to Samuel Delany. Many of Delany’s characters are writers. This theme is obvious in Babel 17, Empire Star, Dark Reflections, and The Mad Man. Samuel Ray Delany is also interested in the concept of refraction. For Delany, refraction happens across phenomena. Light can be refracted, but so too can text be refracted. In addition to the concern about language, Delany also closely examined the struggles of those who tried to move between classes.
On April 1, 1942, Samuel Delany was born in the neighborhood of Harlem in New York City. His parents (Margaret Carey Boyd Delany and Samuel Ray Delany) both had successful careers. His mother was a library clerk. His father was a businessman who owned part of the Levy & Delany Funeral Home. Samuel Delany was the nephew of Sadie and Bessie Delany. These women were educators and civil rights activists.
In his adolescence, Samuel Delaney became familiar with the works of the most renowned science fiction authors of his time. These authors included Ray Bradbury, Alfred Bester, Issac, Asimov, Theodore Sturgeon, and Robert Heinlein. But his literary influences were much broader. He read the works of Jean Genet, Albert Camus, James Baldwin, Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen, Bruce Nugent, LeRoi Joins, and Zora Hurston. These figures represent the breadth of Delany’s interests and the influence of his writing.
Delany was educated at the Dalton School and then the Bronx High School of Science. As a child, Delany felt the strains of class differences quite acutely. His friends in Harlem were the children of working class families. However, his friends at school were the children of publishers, government officials, and producers of literature and television. In 1956, Delany met Marilyn Hacker.When Delany was in high school, the Louis August Jonas Foundation selected Samuel Delany to attend Camp Rising Sun, an international academic program. The Scholastic Writing Awards contest awarded Delany first place for short fiction and second place for essay.
Samuel Delany married Marilyn Hacker in 1961. At nineteen, Delany enrolled and dropped out of City College of New York. In 1974, Delany and Hacker had a daughter, Iva Hacker-Delany. Despite this marriage, Delany knew he had homosexual inclinations. In 1962, Delany published his first novel The Jewels of Aptor. Hacker, who was working at Ace Books, was integral in getting the work published. Babel 17 was composed in a short period of time while Delany was working on shrimp boats. In 1966, Delany traveled to Europe. He left his wife in New York City. His travels through Greece and Turkey inspired some of his later writings. When he returned to the United States, Delany and his wife moved to San Francisco.
At one point Samuel Ray Delany moved to the Heavenly Breakfast commune, he lost his personal papers. This loss caused Samuel Ray Delany to undergo a period of writers block. During this time, he wrote music for the Heavenly Breakfast Rock Band. Later, the couple would move to London. During this period, Delany wrote two pornographic novels.
Samuel Delany and Hacker ended their marriage in 1975. They remained close despite the dissolution of their relationship. They also divided their parental obligations. In 1977, Samuel Delaney would become the University of Wisconsin senior fellow at the Center for Twentieth Century Studies. Later, he would teach at the University at Buffalo as the Butler Professor of English. In 1988, Samuel Ray Delany began teaching at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. In 2001, he joined the English Department of Temple University.
These locales found their way into several pieces of his work at that time, including the novel Nova and the short stories "Aye, and Gomorrah" and "Dog in a Fisherman's Net". After returning from Europe, Delany and Hacker moved to San Francisco, and again to London, before returning to New York. It was during that time that Delany began working with sexual themes and wrote two pornographic works, one of which (Hogg) was considered to be completely unpublishable due to the nature of its content—Hogg relates the story of a so-called rape artist’s obsession with an underage boy. It would, in fact, be twenty years from the time Samuel Ray Delany finished writing the novel before it saw print.
From 1968 until 1968, Samuel Ray Delany published eight novels. In 1968, Delany published Nova. This publication was followed by a six-year publishing hiatus. Following this hiatus, Delany began to integrate more sexual themes into his writing. Stars in My Pocket Like Grans of Sand and Dhalgren contained sexually explicit scenes while books like Phallos and Hogg are explicitly pornographic. Delany embraces the label pornography in regards to that work. Delany has refined his examination of social classes took on a sexual dimension. This examination of the sexual dimension of class was not exploitative in itself; however, the work does examine the exploitation.
Samuel Ray Delany’s books of criticism focus on science fiction although he also examined the queer sexuality and comparative literature. Delany has mined his life for details of his fiction. But he has also written many autobiographical pieces. Delany’s positionality as a gay, black, and dyslexic writer shaped his memoir The Motion of Light in Water. This memoir was awarded the Hugo prize. Samuel Delany’s Times Square Red, Times Square Blue was published 1999. Drawing from his own experience, he examines the way the redevelopment of Times Square in New York City. Samuel Ray Delany examines how the plans to re-create this area, affected the public sexual contacts of gay and straight working-class men.
Samuel Delany was the subject of the award winning documentary film, The Polymath, or, The Life and Opinions of Samuel R. Delany, Gentleman. This film was directed by Fred Barney Taylor.