Samuel R. Delany Biography


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Samuel Ray Delany, Jr., was born into an upper-middle-class family in the Harlem district of New York City on April 1, 1942. His father had come to New York from North Carolina and, in the period before Delany’s birth, had established a successful career as a funeral director. Delany’s mother, the former Margaret Carey Boyd, was a library clerk with a long-standing interest in literature. In the late 1920’s, she had been a friend of several authors in the literary movement known as the Harlem Renaissance.

The prosperity of Delany’s family allowed the young Samuel to attend a number of prestigious schools. Having graduated from the private Dalton School, Delany enrolled at the Bronx High School of Science. There, a reading disorder which had troubled Delany throughout his early schooling was diagnosed as dyslexia. Despite his handicap, Delany was already making progress toward a literary career. While he was still in his early teens, he wrote several novels (none of them published) and served as coeditor of the Dynamo, his high school’s literary review. Delany’s early work won for him several local awards, and he was encouraged to continue with his literary pursuits.

Delany accepted his homosexuality. Nevertheless, on August 24, 1961, he married his former coeditor on the Dynamo, Marilyn Hacker. During that same year, he began taking courses at the City College of New York and became poetry editor of the college’s literary journal, the Promethean. Hacker, meanwhile, left school and began work as a science-fiction editor for Ace Books. Because of Hacker’s encouragement and his own conviction that he could write more interesting science fiction than that being published at the time, Delany completed his first successful science-fiction novel, The Jewels of Aptor (1962), when he was only nineteen. The Jewels of Aptor, like each of Delany’s first eight novels, was published by Ace Books. At first, the novel appeared only in a heavily edited version, bound into the same volume as fellow science-fiction author James White’s Second Ending. A revised edition of The Jewels of Aptor was issued by Ace in 1968, and the full text of the novel finally appeared in an edition published by Gregg Press in 1976.

Delany dropped out of college in 1963 and embarked upon an intense period of writing. While supporting himself as a musician, Delany published Captives of the Flame (1963), The Towers of Toron (1964), City of a Thousand Suns (1965), and The Ballad of Beta-2 (1965). In each of those novels, he united the traditional narrative of the quest with a detailed account of imaginary civilizations. That same combination was to appear in much of his later fiction.

In 1965, Delany left the United States to begin a quest of...

(The entire section is 1169 words.)

Samuel R. Delany Biography

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Delany’s central characters are usually individuals whose quests for knowledge leads them to greater self-discovery. Frequently, this insight involves a realization that the very means that one uses to achieve understanding (for example, language and folklore) may actually be limiting in terms of what one is able to understand.

On the level of sociology, Delany’s novels display a compassionate understanding for individuals who deviate from the norm. By presenting worlds that are exaggerations or distortions of the world known to Delany and his readers, he illustrates how illusory or arbitrary most societal norms really are and suggests that, if seen from a slightly altered perspective, each individual is “different” in some way.

Delany is constantly aware of the conventions and structures of both science fiction and fantasy and constantly questions and distorts them in an attempt to make them evident to the reader. His broad-ranging academic interests manage to inform his work without becoming obtrusive or ever talking down to his reader.

Samuel R. Delany Biography

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Samuel Ray Delany, Jr., was born April 1, 1942, into a middle-class, professional family (two uncles were well-known judges in New York City) in Harlem, New York. His father, Samuel Ray Delany, Sr., was a funeral director, and his mother, Margaret Carey Delaney (née Boyd), was a clerk in a local library. At summer camp one year, he chose the nickname “Chip” for himself and has been called that ever since.

Delany’s early education took place at Dalton, an exclusive, primarily white school on the East Side. He then attended the Bronx High School of Science, where the average intelligence quotient of the students was 140. Although his scores in most subjects were excellent (particularly in math), Delaney’s school career was often made more difficult by what would much later be diagnosed as dyslexia. His parents had forced him to become right-handed, and, partially as a result, Delany had immense difficulty with spelling, with a particular propensity for writing words backward. A broken and jumbled mishmash of misspellings, his writing was opaque even to him once he had forgotten the intended meaning of the words. His parents always encouraged him to write, however, because they had been told by a tutor that if Delany wrote as much as possible his spelling would have to improve. His mother read to him constantly, and his father even read aloud Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884), chapter by chapter.

On August...

(The entire section is 430 words.)

Samuel R. Delany Biography

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Samuel Ray Delany, Jr., was born in Harlem in New York City on April 1, 1942, to an upper-middle-class black family. His father was a prominent Harlem funeral director and was active in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Delany attended the prestigious Dalton School, noted for its progressive curriculum and eccentric teachers and staff. Tensions with his father and a learning disability that would later be diagnosed as dyslexia marred Delany’s childhood and teenage years somewhat, but he found compensation in his interests in theater, science, gymnastics, and—most especially—writing.

After graduating from Dalton in 1956, Delany attended the Bronx High School of Science, where he was encouraged in his writing by some of his teachers and by a fellow student and aspiring poet, Marilyn Hacker. After high school graduation in 1960, Delany received a fellowship to the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference in Vermont, where he met Robert Frost and other professional writers. Delany enrolled in City College of New York but dropped out in 1961. He continued to write, supporting himself as a folksinger in Greenwich Village clubs and cafés. On August 24, 1961, he and Marilyn Hacker were married.

Although their marriage of more than thirteen years was open and loosely structured—the couple often lived apart—Hacker and Delany were highly influential on each other as he developed his fiction and she her poetry. It was at Hacker’s instigation that Delany submitted his first published book, The Jewels of Aptor, to Ace Books, where she worked. He followed up that novel with a trilogy, The Fall of the Towers, and in 1964 he reenrolled at City College of New York, where he edited the campus poetry magazine, The Promethean. He soon dropped out again, and in 1965, after completing The Ballad of Beta-2, he went with a friend to work on shrimp boats in the Gulf of Mexico.

Delany used the advances earned by Babel-17 and Empire Star to tour Europe during 1965 and 1966, an experience that influenced his next two novels, The Einstein Intersection and Nova. When he returned to the United States, Delany became more involved in the science-fiction community, which was beginning to take notice of his work. In 1967, the Science Fiction Writers of America awarded Babel-17 the Nebula Award for best novel (shared with Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes), and in 1968 he won two Nebulas, for The Einstein Intersection and the short story “Aye, and Gomorrah.”


(The entire section is 1067 words.)

Samuel R. Delany Biography

(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Samuel Delaney’s early science fiction is remarkable for its vivid imagination, its pyrotechnic style, and its interest in linguistic science. Several essays collected in The Jewel-Hinged Jaw began an analysis of the distinctive ways in which meaning is generated in texts that refer to imaginary worlds. This analysis is a central preoccupation of his academic writing and played a vital part in shaping his later fiction. The Einstein Intersection is the first of his novels that makes the creator visible within the text and that links the process of fictional creation to his parallel life experiences.

The increasing openness of the science-fiction field allowed Delany to move on to an explicit and very...

(The entire section is 402 words.)

Samuel R. Delany Biography

(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

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...

(The entire section is 917 words.)

Samuel R. Delany Biography

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Samuel Delany writes stories that challenge adults and younger readers to think deeply about both the complex ideas presented in his writings...

(The entire section is 474 words.)