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.”
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