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Samuel ‘Chip’ Delany, Author and Genius

Samuel R. (Chip) Delany, born on April 1, 1942, is an acclaimed author of both non-fiction and science fiction. He grew up in Harlem, at 2250 Seventh Ave above his father’s business, Levy & Delany Funeral Home, which appeared in stories by Langston Hughes and other black writers chronicling Harlem in the 1940s and ’50s.

At a reading at The Kitchen in June 2011

His mother was a clerk in the New York Public Library system. His grandfather, Henry Beard Delany, was born into slavery but became the first black bishop of the Episcopal Church. His aunts were civil rights pioneers Sadie and Bessie Delany, and he used their adventures as a basis for characters in his semi-auto-biographical Atlantis: Model 1924. His aunt and uncle were Harlem Renaissance poet Clarissa Scott Delany and judge Hubert Thomas Delany.

Delany attended the Dalton School and the Bronx High School of Science, where he won an Honorable Mention in the prestigious Westinghouse Science Fair in 1957 for a computer he designed and built himself the year before in his friend’s basement.

Chip Delany at Wesleyan University, ca. 1972 

He published his first novel at the age of 19 and has won numerous awards, including four Nebula Awards and a Hugo Award by the time he was 27. He was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2002 and in 2013, he was named the 31st Damon Knight Memorial Foundation Grand Master by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. Recurring themes in Delany’s work include mythology, class, sexuality, position in society, and the ability to move from one social stratum to another.

Delany at a reading in 2015.

Delany has identified as gay since adolescence, even though he was married to award-winning poet and professor Marilyn Hacker for almost twenty years. He was selected by the Lambda Literary Report as one of the 50 people who had done the most to change our view of gayness in the last half-century.

In 1999, filmmaker Fred Barney Taylor began work on a creative documentary about Samuel Delany. By 2007, the first version was shown at the Tribeca Film Festival

After marrying in 1961, Hacker and Delany moved into apartment 2B in 629 East 5th Street, a building in which their landlord, Noah Greenberg, put all the interracial couples who came to him looking for an apartment. In 1961, interracial marriage was still illegal in many states in this country. Even where it was legal, it was often looked down upon. This still-extant building was constructed in 1907 with 34 apartments and three commercial units.

629 East 5th Street

Four years later, Hacker and Delany moved to 739 East 6th Street, apartment 4F, living there for several years before moving to the Upper West Side. This tenement was built in 1898, but was demolished in 1969 to construct a church.

The site of the former 739 East 6th Street

After a stint in San Francisco, Delaney returned to New York, living for a while in the Hotel Albert on University Place in the early 1970s. Delany’s genre-spanning career includes over 40 published works. In a review of Delany and his work, the NY Times’s Jordy Rosenberg writes Delany “gives readers fiction that reflects and explores the social truths of our world…combines space opera with neo-slave narrative, memoir, sword-and-sorcery fantasy…..and an elegy for the sexual freedoms of pre-Giuliani Times Square.

Gregory Frux’s Portrait of Samuel R. Delany, 1984

Delany is also dyslexic, and in 1999, the Mary McDowell Center for children with learning disabilities honored him with a day-long visit, where he talked with the students about being dyslexic and being a writer at the same time. He was sometimes made fun of in school for his writing and according to his website, this is the award that has meant most to him.

Delany has an extremely passionate and, according to one of his publishers, a very intelligent fanbase. If you want to join them, it is recommended you start with The Motion of Light in Water his memoir about his marriage, his early career, and the experiences of gay male culture in midcentury Manhattan. Click here to read more.

2 responses to “Samuel ‘Chip’ Delany, Author and Genius

  1. The history of the building at 629 East 5th Street is notably more complicated. Sometime in the late ’60s or ’70s, the building was hollowed out, and prefab apartments were dropped in through the roof. Shortly after that, the entire building was demolished, and a brand new building that was completely different was built in its site. A named slum apartment called The Mildred stood just to the west of 629, which was built in the same style with a stoop, a vestibule (with a door that never closed so that wild dogs ran in the hall and down the stairs), and a fire hydrant directly outside the front steps. Across from it at the time, was a window-frame factory with a doctor’s office on the ground floor.
    —Chip Delany

  2. I’ve been a fan since the Fall of the Towers trilogy came out from Ace. The Einstein Intersection was an early favorite. I heard him read from it before publication at Tricon 3, the Cleveland Worldcon. I’ve also seen him speak at other Worldcons. Dhalgren, which I adore and have read several times, was hugely influential. It’s one of the books, along with the earlier Barefoot in the Head by Brian Aldiss, that motivated me to move out of my SF comfort zone and into more challenging fiction. I’ve also really enjoyed Chip’s books on literary theory and pursued an interest in semiotics, albeit as an autodidact. The Jewel-hinged Jaw and The American Shore were huge influences on me. I’ve read Jewel-Hinged a few times over the years. Thank you, for all that you have given us over the years, Chip.

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