Samuel R Delany, Jr., age 2-and-a-half, at the country home of Judge Myles Paige, in Greenwood Lake, NJ, sometime in the summer of 1944.
Levy & Delany Funeral Home at 2250 7th Ave, New York, NY 10027. The front of the building was changed several times over the years. This is somewhere between 1939 and 1942.
Samuel R. Delany (left) on the roof of the Dalton School in c. 1947, missing two front teeth. The girl on the right in the foreground is Linda Anderson. The girl behind her is Wendy Osserman. The young man in the middle is David Bunim. The girl in the very back is Jason Anderelli (sp?). The small boy directly behind Delany is Donny Ginsberg.
Sara (Peggy) Delany and Samuel R. Delany. The photographer was Bill Anderson, the father of Linda Anderson, the girl on the right in the photograph above. The photograph was taken in the third-floor nursery of 2250 7th Ave. Peggy and Chip are sitting on Peggy's couch in Brooklyn, NY, on June 6th, 2016.
Chip Delany takes an Honorable Mention in the Westinghouse Science Fair held during Delany's second year at the Bronx High School of Science's main building in 1957, with a computer he designed and built himself the year before in his high school friend's, Danny Auerbach's, basement. He called it "Minididge." The mechanical relays were purchased on Canal St. in New York.
Marilyn Hacker, wife of Chip Delany, at the home of Paul Caruso and Joe Soley on Avenue B. Photographs are by Ed McCabe.
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 in New York City, and in 2008, The Polymath or, The Life and Times of Samuel R. Delany, Gentleman took an award for Best Documentary at the Philadelphia International Gay Film Festival. A year later, a Director's Cut of the original 86-minute film was released with a bonus disc containing two hours of additional interviews and a short 1971 film by Samuel Delany, The Orchid. You can purchase the award-winning Polymath here.
Some of Hacker's early books: Presentation Piece (1974), Separations (1976), Taking Notice (1980), and Assumptions (1985), which contains her wonderful sequence, "The Snow Queen" (part of which was first published in Poetry).
Photograph by Patti Perret, c. 1982
The City of Green Fire by Mia Wolff, New Paltz, NY, 1997–1998.
Wolff painted the three panels in New Paltz and in New York City between 1997 and 1998. Each panel is 30 X 60, oil on linen.
The paintings are mentioned at the head of the Acknowledgements in Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders. Here's a link to an essay Delany completed two days after Christmas in 2016 on the paintings themselves and sent the artist as a New Years' present: wolffbrain.blogspot.com.
Born in Harlem Hospital in 1942 and raised first on 7th Ave. in the two floors above his father's funeral home at 2250 7th Ave., Samuel Ray Delany attended Horace Mann Nursery School on 120th St. and Broadway. (His Aunt Laura and Uncle Ed Murrell and his cousins Nanny, Edward, and Little Bill, born in the same month as his sister Peggy, lived on the top floor before moving to the Bronx.) At age five, his parents switched him to the Dalton School at 108 E. 89th St. between Park and Lexington. He was one of three black children in the class. One was his cousin, Mickey DesVerney, on his mother's side of the family through his maternal grandfather, Samuel Hugo Boyd. The other was named Linda Anderson, whose father, Bill Anderson, was a photographer. During the summers, Delany attended first Camp Hill & Dale in Nassau, NY, then Camp Woodland upstate in Phoenicia, NY, where, at age ten, on the first day, he took the nickname "Chip," which his friends have called him ever since. He was a camper in senior camp, where he slept in the boys’ tent colony, for three years and work camp for two.
That summer, again he attended Camp Woodland, and in late August or early September, he moved with his family from the private house in Harlem to a co-op apartment at 80 LaSalle St in a six-building co-op called Morningside Gardens, to apartment 4F. (It would become the physical model for the Labrys Apartments in the fictive city of Bellona in his 1975 novel, Dhalgren.)
At that time, boys graduated Dalton at the end of the 8th grade, and he went on to attend the annex of the Bronx High School of Science, where he met his future wife, Marilyn Hacker, on the first day of school when the students were going up and crossing the roof, as well as a lifetime friend, Charles E. (Abe) Abramson (in Delany's The Motion of Light in Water, Abramson appears under his childhood name, "Chuck"). She was 9 months younger and a year ahead of him.
The next summer, he attended Camp Rising Sun, an international scholarship camp for boys, which he did not like. Both Delany and Hacker moved, the next year, into the main building. The year after that, the whole school moved into a new building at 205th St. in the Bronx. By the time he graduated, he had written 9 novels, none of which have ever been published; many of those manuscripts were lost.
Hacker introduced Delany to a friend of hers in her NYU French class named David Logan, who insisted Delany meet his mentor, Bernard K. Kay, who lived at 845 West End Ave. Delany made a point of going over to see Kay, then in his late 40s and just back from Ponce in Puerto Rico. Kay was a married, gay man who had run a theater company in New Hampshire and then gone on to work as a psychologist at the Payne Whitney Clinic. His wife, Ivanetta Kay, two years his senior, was the secretary of the Junior Leagues of America. Kay had been an actor as well and had played Cassio in the second cast of the famous Paul Robeson, Jose Ferrer, and Uta Hagen production of Othello at the Met. Kay took in both paying and non-paying young men to live with them: Tony Calon, David Logan, and others. Until his death at 74, Kay was the most important adult in Delany’s life. Kay was a good friend of Harlem Renaissance writer, Bruce Nugent, and they had been friends since their early twenties. Nugent and Delany went together to Kay’s memorial service, where black actor Earl Hymen delivered the eulogy.
An editor at Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Margaret Marshal, helped get the 18-year-old Delany a work-study scholarship as a waiter at the Bread Loaf Writers Conference in Middlebury, VT. Much of this material is covered in his biographical essay The Motion of Light in Water.
Hacker was an early admissions into New York University, which bordered on Washington Square. She won a full scholarship on the strength of her creative writing, which, a year later, Delany won to NYU through the same means. Hacker was not pleased with the school's educational program, however, so he went instead to City College. Meanwhile, his father contracted lung cancer, and on October 6th, 1960, died in Harlem Hospital, the same one in which Delany and is sister had been born.
Both Hacker and Delany were seriously interested in writing. Hacker's inclination led her largely to poetry. At City College, Delany became the poetry editor of The Promethean, and Hacker edited the literary magazine of her own school, The Washington Square Review.
Delany and Hacker took a bus from New York's Port Authority to Detroit, MI, where they were married at City Hall and went for a walk across the bridge to Windsor, Canada. Then they took the bus back to New York and went to see Gone with the Wind, the film of which had been revived on 42nd St. that week. On the Lower East Side at 629 E. 5th St., they'd been rented an apartment by their landlord, Noah Greenberg, in which he put all the interracial couples who came to him. They threw themselves into scraping and painting and plastering and generally straightening up a four-room apartment with a wall enclosing a dumbwaiter with no lift, and a commode and bathtub.
They gave a housewarming party, where, in a pail hung on a light cord from the living-room ceiling, their friends contributed 17 dollars to the first month’s rent.
After a job during the Christmas rush at B. Altman's, Hacker got her second job as an assistant editor at Ace Books, a paperback company that published 12 books a month with a staff of six or seven. Delany’s own first job was as a stock clerk at the Barns & Noble Bookstore, then on 18th Street and 5th Avenue, where he made friends with a number of the other book clerks—John Hetland, Rose Marion, and Susan Sholley, a graduate student at Columbia who hailed from California.
Hetland was Delany’s first major gay encounter outside his marriage. Delany wrote a novel for his wife's amusement; she suggested that she take it in to Ace and tell them that the book came in through the slush pile (one of her jobs was to go through the slush pile and find any interesting manuscripts that should be passed on to the editor-in-chief, Donald A. Wolheim). Sholley shortly moved in with them the first winter. The book––The Jewels of Aptor––was accepted and published in a cut version just before its release date, January 1962, and published from an uncut carbon copy by Ace Books in 1968 because the cut version had done so well. By that time, Delany had also published a trilogy of science fiction novels called altogether The Fall of the Towers, a short novel called Empire Star, another called Babel-17, and yet another called Nova and had written several non-science fiction novels including a 1000-plus pages of manuscript finished on the night before the Kennedy assassination, Voyage, Orestes!, only a fragment of which survives today (see forthcoming books). After four years, Delany and Hacker moved from 629 East 5th (apartment 2-B), a block north and east, into Rose Marion’s apartment, a block north and two blocks further east, at 739 east 6th Street, in apartment 4-F.
Section 41 through to the end of The Motion of Light in Water covers a two-week stay in Mt. Sinai's day/night program. It would probably be a good thing to read it if you want a real sense of what Delany's life was like by 1964. It includes the portrait of a three-way love affair with a young man from Florida named Bobby Folsom (1941-1993), who really preferred to be called Bob, and who had been married and already had three adopted children and one of his own from a wife, Darlene Folsom, a half-Native American some four- or five-years older than he was, whom he'd married shortly after he'd gotten out of jail, and from whom he'd run away and come to New York with his brother-in-law. The situation ended with Hacker and Delany separated and Bobby back in Florida once again in jail, this time for 20 years, presumably for bad checks his wife had written. Delany did not find out about Folsom's death until a Facebook friend, Zvi Gilbert, ferreted it out online in 2017.
Delany took his first airplane flight back from Texas to New York, over the same thousand-odd miles he had hitch-hiked with Bob, and eventually, borrowing two hundred dollars from his cousin Dr. Barbara Paige Randle, they flew Folsom back to the city, and the three stayed in the Ansonia Hotel on the Upper West Side.
In September of that year, Delany was directed to the newly formed "Henry Morrison Inc." agency by an editor named Bob Pinkerton, who was acquainted with a gentleman named Hans Stefan Santesson, who shared an office with Henry Morrison, then, in the Albert Hotel in New York City. The basic idea is that Morrison would take care of Delany's works while Delany was away in Europe (working on The Einstein Intersection). Morrison still represents Delany to this day.
On October 18th, 1965, with a friend, Ron Helstrom, whom he'd made on the Gulf Coast (he had been the first mate on a boat where Delany was the third man, or header) when he'd hitchhiked down to Aransas Pass, TX to work on shrimp boats with Folsom, Delany flew by Icelandic Airlines to Reykjavik and then, with a young Canadian named Bill Balousiak, to Luxembourg and then on to Paris and on to Greece by way of two weeks in Venice, where the boys had some of the best food Delany had ever had, even though basically they ate in the student restaurant near the Academia. Delany cruised the john at the end of the Academy quite successfully, and when they got to Greece and went to American Express to see if any mail had arrived, it hadn't. Delany managed to have sex at least once while sitting in Syntagma Square just outside the john while he waited for Bill and Ron to come back from American Express. Bill, Ron, and Delany ended up renting a room on the roof of an old victorian style house halfway up Mount Lycabettus, at 17 Boltetsiou St., which you went up to by a spiral staircase on the outside of the building. To read more about this, see Delany's Facebook note.
While Delany was living in Greece, he spent a month on Milos with Ron and Bill, living in a small stone shack in the harbor town of Adamas. Once they took a bus to Plaka ("old city"), not far from where the Venus de Milo had been unearthed. It was winter, and the very small museum–basically a wooden shack—was unlocked by the caretaker directly for them, and they looked at some of the ancient artifacts on the shelves in the shack that was the museum. Delany worked on his new novel that would become The Einstein Intersection under Wolheim's urging. Special notes were written to refer retrospectively to things that had happened during the novel's writing. During his period in Greece, Delany was raped by two sailors while he stayed at the house of a woman friend named DeLys Robinson from New Orleans which some years later produced at story, “Citre et Trans,” the title taken from Coleridge’s Biographia Literaria. During his last weeks in Athens, he stayed in the room with a young German woman named Heidi Mueller, who spoke numerous languages including Italian and Hebrew (her degree was in Hebrew literature, but because she was German, in Israel, they wouldn’t let her off the boat; so she had returned to Athens.
Though they only went to bed once, they were assumed to be, by everyone else, some sort of couple. The story forms the largely true basis of a tale told as "Citra et Trans" in his collection Atlantis: Three Tales.
Hitchhiking from Greece to Munich with a stop off at the Deutsches Museum, Delany returned to the States six months later on April 15th, 1966, after a final week in London and then a return trip to France to hitchhike back to Luxembourg, from which to fly back to New York. When he arrived home, a man named William McNeal was just leaving, who had been rooming with Hacker while Delany was in Europe, and whom he had met cruising by Central Park and brought home one evening when Hacker was staying with a friend. Eventually DeLys came to New York, and Delany let her stay in his 6th St. apartment, while he stayed at 32 St. Marks Place with a new lover, Ron Bowman, above the then old St. Marks Bookstore, which was in the basement of the building. Before a 21-day trip to see John Brunner and Michael Moorcock in London, Delany brought home Ronald Tavel (Street of Stairs, Gorilla Queen), who became Bowman's lover while Delany was away.
In winter of '67, Delany concerted his musical efforts with a group of other musicians led by Steven Greenbaum (aka Weiseman), Susan Schweers, and eventually Bert Lee. Marilyn went to San Francisco to rejoin her young friend Link (aka Thomas Luther Cupp), and that autumn, Delany joined the other members of Heavenly Breakfast at a 2nd St. four-room tenement flat, which is recounted in his essay on urban communes, Heavenly Breakfast: An Essay on the Winter of Love.
A few years later, Bowman had a part in Delany's film, The Orchid (1971).
On New Years Eve, 1968, Delany sent all his carefully selected papers to the Gottlieb Memorial Archive. Dr. Gottleib had invited him to store his papers at the archive. With a notebook, a guitar, and minimal books and clothing he flew from New York to San Francisco. At the airport, he was met in a car by Paul Caruso, Bill Brodecky, Marilyn Hacker, and a friend named Joseph Cox, who was driving, and the group began an evening of New Years Eve parties in the new city. Cox was just out of jail after two years and an acquisition of Caruso’s. Hacker, Caruso, and now Delany were living in a sprawling 2nd-floor flat at 1067 Natoma St. upstairs from a black woman named Helen, who claimed to be a witch. At the Green Valley Restaurant, toward the top of Green St. in North Beach in 1969, George Stanley told Delany, "You have confused the true and the real." Marilyn, William Alvin Moore (then, Bill Brodecky), and possibly Paul Caruso were also present.
A very good friend of Delany's named Oliver Shank eventually took over Helen's apartment after Marilyn left and Delany returned to the East Coast, first to teach at Clarion, then to stay on 13th Street, and finally to return to San Francisco. He alternated between Natoma St. and a commune on Oak Street behind the San Francisco Buddhist Center, in the care of a gay couple, Reg and Army, and again finally left the Natoma flat in Paul’s keeping, to return to New York City and stay first at the Albert Hotel, where Jean Mark Gawron (a young, very tall, and brilliant, writing student he had met and befriended at the Clarion SF Writer’s Conference in Clarion, PA) joined him, and a week or so later took over a room at Delany's new Upper West Side apartment at 184 W. 82nd St., Apt. 5s. Mark lived there for two(?) years. Gawron published a novel with Doubleday called An Apology for Rain (written when he was 19), which was well-reviewed by Theodore Sturgeon in the Times Book Review, although, because the narrator was a young woman looking for her brother, Sturgeon assumed the writer was a woman as well. Gawron went on to publish a paperback novel under the editorship of David Hartwell called Algorithm. After some years (sharing the apartment with Delany and his daughter, Iva), he then left Delany's apartment and went on to teach and get a PhD in linguistics and marry a young lawyer named Jenny. Eventually he was to get a job on the West Coast and marry for a second time.
After finishing the film The Orchid over eleven days in February 1971—produced by art enthusiast Barbara Wise largely because her son, David, already a filmmaker who had shown his films at MOMA, wanted to meet and work with Delany—Delany spent a year in New York with the summer on the Cape with Barbara Wise at Wellfleet, MA (in their Marcel Breuer-designed summerhouse), working on The Mad Man and doing various readings from “The Tale of Plagues and Carnivals” around the country in Detroit, Wellfleet, Provincetown, and the Judson Poets Theater in New York City.
On New Years Eve, 1971, Delany flew to London at the request of Marilyn Hacker in order for the two of them to have a child. They lived at 21 Paddington St. in a three-room second-floor flat downstairs from the apartment of the actor Tim Curry, with whom over time they became relatively friendly, and first saw Curry playing a cameo part of Conservative MP Enoch Powell in a play Upstairs at the Royal Court; a few months later, they saw him in his smash hit, The Rocky Horror Show, at the Kings Road Theatre across from the Kings Market, where Hacker and her business partner John Simms had a rare bookstall, which did fairly well over the years. That was the time Delany finished his novel, Dhalgren, and sold it to Bantam Books. Hacker conceived at the Bristol Con that was held on Delany's birthday weekend, and Iva was born January 14th, 1974. Delany was now at work on Trouble on Triton, which would first see publication as Triton. On the strength of a correspondence with Leslie Fiedler, Delany was invited to teach at SUNY Buffalo and occupy the Visiting Butler Chair Professorship in 1975. Things were not going well between Delany and Hacker. Hacker's first book was a 1973 Lamont Poetry Selection and was published in 1974 by Viking Books. When Hacker returned to the States to do a reading, Delany took over Iva for a month: the child slept on a great pile of blankets in the bathtub, and he basically carried her everywhere. She returned with her mother to England.
A new friend of Hacker’s and Delany’s, Judith Johnson Sherwin who had won a Yale Younger Poet’s Award (Uranium Poems) and published a book of experimental short fictions, The Life of Riot, threw a party for Marilyn on the book's receipt of that year’s NBA, attended by poets such as Adrian Rich, John Ashbery, and Caroline Kaiser. In the same week, Delany’s mother also threw a party for Marilyn for her own friends. Delany enjoyed the party at the Sherwin’s but, at the one at his mother's, realized that he and Hacker probably could not live together anymore.
Viking Penguin failed to include Presentation Piece (1974) in with the other three books they’d published that year that were award winners in a large congratulatory newspaper advertisement naming both the writers and the titles of their book, Lewis Thomas, Roger Shattuck . . . Delany wrote them a brief but firm letter, on Hacker's behalf, pointing it out to them, which they tried to correct: they took out a small ad, congratulating Marilyn Hacker but failing to mention the title of the book or the category. They had offered her less money than they had for her first book for her second, but now—on the strength of the award—put the advance back up to a thousand dollars, the same that Delany got for a paperback novel at Ace.
But that is a good sketch of the “successful” life of poets and writers during those years, between the 1960s and the middle 1970s.
Delany returned to teaching (his New York City rent was extremely reasonable) and Marilyn returned to England—and eventually, for a while, came back to the city, to live first a block away from Delany around the corner on 81st St. between Amsterdam and Columbus, and then further up town at 106th Street, just East of Broadway. From that point on, they never lived together again, and Iva went back and forth between them, sometimes staying with Delany's mother at 80 LaSalle St.
After a stint at the Albert Hotel, in approximately 1977, Delany took an apartment at 184 W 82nd St., which looked out across Amsterdam at the St. Agnes branch of the New York Public Library, at which Delany had worked as a library page at 15, and at which his mother had worked a few years later. He worked hard to ready the apartment for his young daughter, who was expected to come back from England, and, indeed, moved in when she was three, alternating between her mother’s and her father’s.
After three more collections of poetry with Knopf, Hacker finished her novel-in-sonnets, Love, Death, and the Changing of the Seasons (1986), which their mutual friend David Hartwell published at Arbor House. With this book, Marilyn announced herself directly as a Lesbian poet, which had already been suggested in a number of the previous poems in the previous books—something of a surprise for Delany, who had not particularly thought of his former wife in those terms.
But, if anything, their friendship was now a great deal stronger, since they had ceased to live together.
On a July 14, 1977, of torrentially stormy rains in the back row of the Orchestra of the Variety Photoplays Theaters (it was Bastille Day), Delany began making out with a heavy Italian sitting next to him. Soon they left and went up to his two-room apartment in the basement of a house on West 49th Street, then between 9th and 10th Avenues, and, a few hours later, up to Delany’s eight-room apartment (5-S), at 184 West 82nd Street, just east of Amsterdam Avenue. His name was Frank Romeo (and his name, Delany learned, was misspelled almost as frequently as his: everyone tried to write it as Frank Romano). They stayed together seven-and-a-half somewhat stormy years—especially at the beginning and at the end.
Frank had been a singer, in a group called The Trout, with his older brother, Tony Romeo, and an actress and singer named Cass Morgan. He wanted to be an actor and to make movies—and a friend of his, Harvey Marx, had already made a film about an incident in his life, that was shown several times on PBS, called I’m Not from Here, in which the young Frank, driving around at age 17 or so, had picked up a man just released from the hospital; the two of them had had sex, and while Frank was driving the car, the man collapsed, and Frank realized he had had some sort of heart attack and died. Frank was terrified but eventually drove to the local police station and explained what had happened, leaving out the sexual encounter between them. He was convinced everyone knew what had occurred. In the film, Frank himself had played the policeman at the station who looks in the car and sees that there is indeed a dead body. When Frank and Delany met, Harvey Marx was still in the process of editing I’m Not from Here. Delany arranged for Marx to do some make-up shooting in an Army and Navy Surplus store downstairs on Amsterdam Ave., which scenes are in Marx’s finished film.
But Frank was very eager to make his own films.
The first few weeks that Frank and Delany lived together in Delany's walkup were marked by physical fights until, one day, Delany fought back. Frank’s response was that of many bullies—an astonished: “But you’re not supposed to do that!” Delany’s response was: “If you ever hit me again, we are through!” For the vast majority of the time Frank lived with Delany, as it had been with the time Delany lived with Marilyn, it was an open relationship. Frank, however, was irrationally jealous of all of Delany’s male friends, sexual or not. He was afraid they would not think he was good enough for Delany. Frank could drive, and Delany gave him a new Volkswagen, which Delany paid for in cash. He also paid for a garage. They took several extended vacations around the country and to San Francisco, where Delany’s friend through Mark Gawron, Joel Coen of the Coen brothers, visited them as the two of them sat on the couch at what was once Marilyn’s old Natoma St. flat at 1067 Natoma St., which now belonged to Paul Caruso. Joel volunteered to help Frank in any way he could with Frank’s films, but Frank never got in contact with him. One of the vacations was a strangely surreal trip to Europe, where Frank flew and Delany took a steamer from Baltimore, the Maislaw Kolonowski (sp?), which was supposed to dock in Rotterdam but because of a dock strike was diverted to Antwerp. The two were supposed to meet in London, but Delany was three days late with no way to get in touch with Frank. This was before cell phones. They eventually met at Paddington Street Station, where Frank came to hang out at the station every day at the hours they had been supposed to meet. Delany arrived to a bewildered and frightened Frank, who was wandering around the crowded station as Delany walked across it. (Frank had not been able to get a room at the hotel they’d planned to stay at and where Delany had, indeed, left him a message.) At a later leg of the trip now in Italy, they had an equally surreal trip by rail up into the Abruzzi Mountains to a small town, “Calomel” (sp?), which may or may not have been where Frank’s family had originated, but which Frank was sure was his ancestral home. It entailed five hours of walking around the tiny town, talking to this and that local who spoke no English (Frank spoke no Italian), and passing out $10 bills to strangers who smiled and seemed to recognize some of the names Frank asked them about.
Back in the States, Delany produced, scripted, and edited two short films for Frank with a young man named Jack Newman as cameraman on both. 21-minutes long and black-and-white, the first was called Bye Bye Love. Two years later, the second, 10-minutes long and in color, was called The Aunts. The stories were both Romeo's, and in the filming, he directed the actors. Delany is only listed as “friend” in Bye Bye Love and “script boy” in the other. The first cost Delany $3000; the second cost $6000. Bye Bye Love actually had a single screening, which Frank was too nervous to attend. He had heard that Woody Allen had never attended his own screenings and so thought that was a good reason not to attend his own. Neither one has ever been publicly shown. Delany still has copies, but very few people have seen them. Frank’s younger brother, Tony Romeo (1938–1995), like his brother, was gay. He died of AIDS, as did several of their friends, including a country singer named Ralph, who had been Tony Romeo’s lover and was then the lover of Harvey Marx (who had made I’m Not from Here). Frank and Delany both remained HIV-negative, which was basically because both were oral rather than anal.
A rose among a box of roses that my mother sent Marlyn on the publication of Presentation Piece (now pressed in the book) and a picture on the back flap of the hardcover. Hacker is wearing the same dress and broach she wore some years before when W. H. Auden and Chester Kalman came to dinner.
Susan Schweers, Chip Delany, Bert Lee, and an unidentified friend of the photographer, Bernard K. Kay—three members of Heavenly Breakfast in March 1968, on the West Side docks of New York City near 42nd St.
Bye Bye Love
Gregory Frux's Portrait of Samuel R. Delany, 1984, which was painted over 10 months of that year with weekly Wednesday afternoon sittings in Delany's home at 184 W 82nd St., Apt. 5-S. Now and again after the sitting, Delany would make the artist dinner, and they would talk about pretty much everything under the sun. This portrait is set in the same room as the Patti Perret photograph above.
The original now hangs in the Fales Library in the hallway to the office of Library Curator Marvin Taylor.
The painting is as full of symbols as Chardin's Le Philosophe Lisant, as analyzed by George Steiner ("The Uncommon Reader." No Passion Spent: Essays 1978-1995. New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 1998), which was the actual model for the Frux painting—Frux termed it a "heroic portrait"—from the model's bare feet on the floor to the airmail letter on the text stand, to the hands that quote Michelangelo's hand of God and the hand of Adam, to the egg timer (hourglass) on the typing table that holds the Kapryo II "portable" computer.
Frank was cyclically depressive. It became clear to Delany that Frank had a 8-week cycle, two weeks in which he was basically in a good mood, two weeks descending, two weeks in which he basically couldn’t get out of bed, and two in which he was improving, and the whole thing would repeat. Frank worked very hard not to let his cyclic swings interfere with the times of the month the two men took care of Delany’s daughter, Iva. He was a good co-father, if somewhat moody, and more and more unhappy with the relationship as a whole.
Sometimes in the early '80s, Delany received an email from a young Los Angeles composer and musician, Quentin Caine Llorente (Nov 14, 1952–Nov 18, 2011), who wanted to write a rock opera based on Delany's '75 novel Dhalgren. In '84, he sent Delany studio tapes he had put together of the work, in which he performed the lead male part of the Kid.
Things with Frank came to an abrupt end rather violently in November of ’88 or ’89 with an argument that ended with Frank punching Delany in the jaw, and Delany immediately declaring that the relationship was over.
Frank moved directly downstairs with Delany’s old friend from the last days of his marriage, Judy Ratner, who felt that Delany had been very hard on him, only giving him to the end of the week to move out. Some time later, Ratner put him out in a day, and he proceeded to move in with Marilyn Hacker and Karen London for some indeterminate length of time, and then finally up to the home of his mother and stepfather in Watervliet, NY. Frank had a monthly SSI check, most of which went into a fairly serious eating disorder. He was a male bulimic.
During those years, Delany wrote his major work comprising Some Informal Remarks Toward the Modular Calculus, including The Return to Nevèrÿon series. He also finished a minor science fiction novel, Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand, which far more people seemed to enjoy. It was published in 1984.
Delany continued with his various academic appointments. In 1988, he began working at UMass in the Comparative Literature Department. Delany lived alone until ’91 when he joined up with his current partner, Dennis Rickett. On March 23rd-24th, 2006, a conference titled "Samuel R. Delany: A Critical Symposium" was held at the State University of New York at Buffalo. That story is told in Bread & Wine and the forthcoming Letters from Amherst. After two years at SUNY Buffalo in the English Department, Delany started at Temple University in January 2000 until his retirement in 2015. His last formal science fiction novel was his longest, Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders (2012). Several dream sequences in the novel turn on a triptych of paintings by his friend Mia Wolff, The City of Green Fire.
Photograph by James Hamilton, taken for the Village Voice
For another biography (by K. Leslie Steiner) that may be of interest to the reader, click here.
A review of Fred Barney Taylor's meditative film, The Polymath or, The Life and Opinions of Samuel R. Delany, Gentleman
This brisk documentary, from 2009, by Fred Barney Taylor, features the prolific science-fiction author and literary critic Samuel R. Delany. Reading Delany’s novels, dim views of the future with an almost Shakespearean use of language, can be a dense and time-draining experience, so it comes as a nice surprise that Delany himself is a straightforward, no-holds-barred speaker. He recalls in vivid detail his experience as a black man in the late forties and fifties in New York City and the particulars of his childhood in Harlem, where he was raised above his father’s funeral parlor. Later, when he moved to the Lower East Side, he lived a gloriously promiscuous gay life while managing to write five novels by the time he was twenty-two. With his big white beard and bearish girth, Delany creates a warm impression, and Taylor’s understated direction, featuring simple camerawork that prods the writer's recollections gently along, makes for a lively and thoughtful look at a deeply lived-in life.
—Bruce Diones, The New Yorker
Photograph by Kyle Cassidy