I wish I could say that I discovered Samuel R. Delany as a book-hungry teen, like I did with so many of the other sci-fi legends. I wish I could say that I’ve been reading his books for years, or that I’ve always given him due credit as one of the fathers of modern speculative fiction, or that I’ve been lobbying for an HBO adaptation of Dhalgren. But the truth is, I’d barely heard of Samuel R. Delany before I picked up a battered, third-hand copy of his memoir, The Motion of Light in Water: Sex and Science Fiction Writing in the East Village.
I think it was the subtitle that hooked me. That, and the cover: a grainy photo of a young, shirtless Delany, holding a guitar, with a rainbow gradient filter layered on top. To a modern reader, it looks more like a Tinder photo than a book cover, but it sets the stage well. This is a book about Delany coming to terms with himself as a young, black, gay science fiction author in the late ’50s and early ’60s, when that intersection of identities was all too rare. It’s a time capsule, a portrait of the American ’50s as they actually were—not just milkshakes and poodle skirts, but police raids and experimental theatre and crossing state lines to obtain an interracial marriage certificate.
And it’s a must read for every young artist out there.
Delany, you see, started writing straight out of high school. By the age of 22, he had published four novels (and written five). Each birthday spurred him on to write more and write faster.