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Empire Star | Study Guide

Samuel R. Delany

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Samuel R. Delany | Biography


Early Life and Education

Samuel Ray Delany Jr., nicknamed "Chip" in later years, was born on April 1, 1942, in Harlem Hospital in New York City. Although the area at the time was primarily home to working-class poor people, Delany's father was a successful, financially well-off funeral home director. Delany's upbringing, as a result, was comparatively privileged. He attended Dalton Grade School, where he was one of three African American students in his class, and the Bronx High School of Science. Afterward, he went to—but dropped out of—the City College of New York.

Writing Career and Adult Life

From early on, Delany's writing attracted attention for its frank and original explorations of racial issues and human sexuality. In 1962 he published The Jewels of Aptor. Babel-17 was published in 1966 (the same year as Empire Star) and won him the first of his four Nebula Awards. He has also won two Hugo Awards and was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2002.

Although gay, he married poet Marilyn Hacker (b. 1942) in 1961. The two maintained an open marriage and had one daughter. Over time Marilyn also came to identify as gay, and in 1974, they separated. The couple officially divorced in 1980. Beginning in 1991, Delany lived with his male partner Dennis Rickett. By 1975 he held several university positions while maintaining his prolific writing output. His last academic position was at Philadelphia's Temple University, where he taught English for five years before retiring from academe in 2015.

Delany remained active at writing during his postretirement from teaching. His later works include a short story entitled "The Hermit of Houston," published in the September/October 2017 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. In 2018 he released a collection of fiction and essays entitled The Atheist in the Attic, and in 2019, he put out a memoir called Letters from Amherst: Five Narrative Letters.


In a July 29, 2015, New Yorker article entitled "Samuel Delany and the Past and Future of Science Fiction," pop culture writer Peter Bebergal pointed out that when Delany began his writing career, science fiction was "characterized by gee-whiz futurism, machismo adventuring, and white, heterosexual heroes." Delany's creative expansions of the genre beyond those traditional parameters have continued to fascinate readers and inspire writers of science fiction over time.

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