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literature

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Delany, Samuel R. (b. 1942)  
 
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Delany's pornography (he cheerfully embraces the label) includes Hogg (1993), the narrative of an eleven-year-old boy drawn to a sexually violent man; The Mad Man (1995, revised 2002), a quest novel infamous for its scatology; and Tides of Lust (1973), a homoerotic metafiction that prefigures the sexual scenes in Delany's science fiction masterpiece, Dhalgren (1975).

Considered Delany's magnum opus, Dhalgren depicts a violent urban dystopia modeled on the abandoned, burned-out blocks that blighted American ghettos in the 1970s. Kidd, the protagonist, is both poet and outlaw, whose charisma wins him a street gang's loyalty and numerous "ambisexual" escapades. Kidd is also amnesiac; unable to learn from his past, he must continually reinvent his response to society. Meanwhile, Kidd as poet observes his own creative process as the novel unfolds. These devices reinforce a sense of disorientation and precarious identity, drawn from Delany's own experiences with dyslexia.

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Less acclaimed but equally challenging, Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand (1984) is a densely woven epic of a union between two men of disparate backgrounds, one a former slave, the other the scion of a powerful family. Privileged classes maintain their concept of status via holographic illusions, but even this sheltered universe seethes with a conservative backlash movement that is reminiscent of today's culture wars. As of 2005, however, its cliffhanger ending still awaits a long-promised sequel.

In Triton (1976), Delany adopts the perspective of an anti-hero who, as an unreconstructed masculinist, is frustrated by the social dynamics of a society wholly comfortable with sex changes and gay relationships.

The Nevèrÿon series (Tales of Nevèrÿon, 1979; Nevèrÿona, 1983; Flight from Nevèrÿon, 1985; and The Bridge of Lost Desire, 1987) is Delany's excursion into non-futuristic fantasy and includes some of his most popular fiction. Through the exploits of Gorgik, a gay, mixed-race former slave who rises to authority in a pre-monetary society, Delany explores the attributes of a "civilized" person: one who is accustomed to social differences and has mastered effective modes of negotiation among them. Flight . . . includes the "The Tale of Plagues and Carnivals," which, Delany later explained, is intended partly as a refutation of those who would use AIDS "as an excuse to armor the body in silence, ignorance, and rubber."

In his essays, Delany comments on the relationship between his fiction and life as he experiences it. "Fiction makes models of reality," he observes. He is concerned with distinguishing between the "true" (culturally assumed paradigms) and the "real" (observable realities), because minority groups' reality models are different from those of the dominant culture.

Delany sees clear lines of influence from the African-American civil rights struggle to the women's and gay liberation movements, noting that the civil rights movement only made headway when society began questioning the sexual stereotypes that had been embedded in racial ones. For him, sexual orientation is not about identity--he considers that approach "reductive"--but rather about the struggle against socially imposed conformity. He notes that "coming out" underwent a shift in meaning after Stonewall, from "into gay society" (an action for a gay audience) to "out of the closet" (an action aimed at the dominant society), and fears that feminists and homosexuals may backslide into reactionary power dynamics if they fail to remain faithful to the civil rights model.

Delany's voluminous oeuvre of fiction is accompanied by a prolific body of commentary, interviews, and essays. He is fond of pointing out that science fiction is not so much a genre as a "way of reading" with its own connotations and expectations. He elaborates on semiotics (the semantic functioning of signs and symbols) as developed by Marshall McLuhan, Joseph Campbell, and Ludwig Wittgenstein, and the poststructuralist literary analysis of Jacques Derrida, Jacques Lacan, and Michel Foucault. Shorter Views (2002) is of special interest for his views on sexuality, coming out, and AIDS. Times Square Red, Times Square Blue (1999) examines the effects of the Times Square makeover on New York City's working-class gay community.

Delany has taught creative writing and comparative literature at SUNY-Buffalo, Cornell, University of Wisconsin, University of Massachusetts, and the Clarion workshops. He is currently Professor of Comparative Literature at Temple University. In 2005, he received the Lambda Literary Foundation's Pioneer Award.

Ruth M. Pettis

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    Bibliography
   

Blaschke, Jayme Lynn. "A Conversation with Samuel R. Delany." SF Site (April 2001): www.sfsite.com/06b/srd106.htm.

Delany, Samuel R. Heavenly Breakfast: An Essay on the Winter of Love. Flint, Mich.: Bamberger Books, 1997.

_____. The Jewel-hinged Jaw: Notes on the Language of Science Fiction. Elizabethtown, N. Y.: Dragon Press, 1977.

_____. The Motion of Light in Water: Sex and Science Fiction Writing in the East Village. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2004.

_____. 1984: Sex and Science Fiction and Semiotics in the City. Rutherford, N. J.: Voyant Publishing, 2000.

_____. Shorter Views: Queer Thoughts and the Politics of the Paraliterary. Hanover, N. H.: Wesleyan University Press, 1999.

_____. Silent Interviews on Language, Race, Sex, Science Fiction, and Some Comics. Hanover, N. H.: Wesleyan University Press, 1994.

_____. Starboard Wine: More Notes on the Language of Science Fiction. Pleasantville, N. Y.: Dragon Press, 1984.

_____. Time Square Red, Times Square Blue. New York: New York University Press, 1999.

Dornemann, Rudi, and Eric Lorberer. "A Silent Interview with Samuel R. Delany." Rain Taxi Review of Books (Winter 2000/2001): www.raintaxi.com/online/2000winter/delany.shtml.

Ellison, Harlan, ed. Dangerous Visions. Garden City, N. Y.: Doubleday, 1967.

Garber, Eric, and Lyn Paleo, eds. Uranian Worlds: A Guide to Alternative Sexuality in Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror. 2nd ed. Boston: G.K. Hall, 1990.

McCaffery, Larry. Across the Wounded Galaxies: Interviews with Contemporary American Science Fiction Writers. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1990.

Peplow, Michael, and Robert S. Bravard. Samuel R. Delany: A Primary and Secondary Bibliography, 1962-1979. Boston: G.K. Hall, 1980.

Schuster, Jay. "Samuel R. Delany Information." (September 19, 2001): www.pcc.com/~jay/delany/.

Weedman, Jane. Samuel R. Delany. Starmont Reader's Guide 10. Mercer Island, Wash.: Starmont House, 1982.

 

    Citation Information
         
    Author: Pettis, Ruth M.  
    Entry Title: Delany, Samuel R.  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
 
    Publication Date: 2005  
    Date Last Updated October 14, 2007  
    Web Address www.glbtq.com/literature/delany_sr.html  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
 
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    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2005, glbtq, inc.  
 

 

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