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...
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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...
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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.
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