An appreciation for Samuel Delany

Samuel R "Chip" Delany is a science fiction pioneer: a brilliant literary stylist with dazzling ideas who was one of the field's first openly queer writers, and one of the first Black writers accepted into the field. He is one of the fathers of afrofuturism.

Delany's work is hugely influential on generations of writers, and I've been writing about his work here for nearly two decades (!). In 2013, he received a well-deserved honor when the Science Fiction Writers of America named him one of the field's Grand Masters. More recently, journals were published after a crowdfunder. I got to have drinks with Chip last fall after a speech at Swarthmore, and was charmed and delighted by his company.

So it's very exciting to see him profiled at length in the New York Times by the queer novelist Jordy Rosenberg, who describes the influence that Delany's work exerted over their career and provides a brief guide to reading Delany.

The emotional dynamism of Delany’s sentences has been perhaps less acknowledged than his world-building, or the sweep of his vision. But when asked to speak about writing as a practice, Delany himself often turns to the art of sentences, and of how to imbue words with such “ekphrastic force” that they summon the material presence of an imagined world. When Korga and Marq return to themselves they are awe-struck, struggling to narrate the intensity of their own transformative experience. It is impossible not to hear in that a metatextual echo of the obsession of Delany’s practice: that of creating the most immersive possible aesthetic experience for us, his readers and devoted enthusiasts.

“I was a dragon,” Korga wonders aloud. And then, struck with the impossibility of communicating the exquisiteness of having been a dragon in flight, Korga reaches for the most apt simile he can imagine. “I was a dragon? I was a dragon!” he cries. “It’s like reading.”

In Praise of Samuel R. Delany [Jordy Rosenberg/New York Times]

(Thanks, DJ Spooky!)

(Image: Houari B, CC BY-SA)