Samuel R. Delany has defied expectation from the beginning, seventy-one years ago. The tenth child born to a Harlem couple in the 1940s, he was not the likeliest boy to prep at Dalton (alongside Wallace Shawn). When he took up writing, some were surprised he chose to work in science fiction. Once he'd made a name for himself in that genre -- his Dhalgren sold a million copies -- some were further surprised by his inclusions of significant sexual content. His has also written erotica that he is happy to call pornography, like Phallos which takes place during Hadrian's reign. Norman Mailer said of his most transgressive work of brutal sexual violence, narrated by an 11 year-old, "There is no question that Hogg by Samuel R. Delany is a serious book with literary merit."
In 2010 it seemed the mainstream literary world was finally catching up with him when he was selected to judge the fiction prize of the National Book Awards. But last year's publication of his first new novel in five years, Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders [Kindle], failed to gain widespread attention or readership, despite high praise from Michael Cunningham, Andrew Holleran, Ed White, and Lonely Christopher, who emphatically declared it the best novel of the 21st century.
Delany remains science fiction star having won the Nebula four times, the Hugo twice, and was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2002. His novel Dark Reflections won a Stonewall Book Award. A professor at U Mass Amherst for eleven years, Delany has taught at Temple University since 2000. His own work is required reading in many college courses, across multiple departments: literature, black studies, and queer studies. Although he was married to a woman for nineteen years and fathered a daughter, he was openly gay for much of that time and privately identified as gay since his teens. Because he has been an aficionado of XXX theaters and video booths for decades, he estimates his total number of male sexual partners to be 50,000. A documentary covering all aspects of his life, The Polymath, directed by Fred Barney Taylor, premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in April 2007 and has screened at many lgbt festivals, winning the jury award at Philadelphia. The movie shows Jonathan Lethem to be a fan; shouldn't he get David Remnick to let him do a major New Yorker profile of the world's leading black, gay, sci-fi intellectual? Until then, try his autobiography The Motion Of Light In Water, "with tertiary walk-ons by Bob Dylan, Stokely Carmichael, W. H. Auden, and James Baldwin."