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The Motion Of Light In...
Samuel R. Delany
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The Motion Of Light In Water: Sex And Science Fiction Writing In The East Village

4.31 of 5 stars 4.31  ·  rating details  ·  600 ratings  ·  64 reviews
"A very moving, intensely fascinating literary biography from an extraordinary writer. Thoroughly admirable candor and luminous stylistic precision; the artist as a young man and a memorable picture of an age." -William Gibson"Absolutely central to any consideration of black manhood. . . . Delany's vision of the necessity for total social and political transformation is re ...more
Hardcover, 584 pages
Published May 3rd 2004 by Univ Of Minnesota Press (first published 1988)
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This is one of a couple books - the other being The Collected Non-Fiction of Joan Didion - that I keep next to my bed and read over and over again. It is, simply, Delany's memoirs of being a young, black, gay science fiction writer in New York City in the 1960s. He was married to a white woman, the poet Marilyn Hacker, and this book chronicles their time together and so much more: New York's seedy gay (pre-Stonewall) underbelly; Delany's family history; an awkward phone conversation with James B ...more
Originally reviewed here.

Why I Read It: Required reading for my Gender and Sexuality in Literature course.

This is a difficult book to review; it's a very heavy novel, both in page number and in content and it introduced so many concepts to me that I'm still trying to wrap my head around.

I should also preface this review by stating that I've never read any of Delany's SF before. I never even KNEW about it him until I had to read this book. If you're not familiar with him, he's a black, gay man ma
Delany is a terrific writer. One rarely reads about growing up black and middle class in Manhattan and Delany writes about such a fascinating life and era.
The Motion of Light in Water: Sex and Science Fiction Writing in the East Village is the story of a young writer's coming of age. The memoir is a beautifully-crafted narrative that moves back and forth in time like a tesseract... "queer temporality" in action before that jargon was coined in academia to describe it. It chronicles Delany's childhood, growing up over a funeral parlor in Harlem, his adolescence, during which he was a gifted student at Bronx Science, his early 20s, when he lived in ...more
A black man.
A gay man.
A writer.

Towards the end of the book, as he is reflecting on himself to better understand the anxiety he is experiencing, Delany lists these three characteristics of himself.

"In my exhaustion, what I'd been experiencing was the comfort of--for those few moments--shrugging off the social pressure from being black, from being gay, indeed, from being a citizen who made art."

In brief numbered chunks, rather than chapters, he throws out insightful observations of what it was l
Early on in this picaresque erotic memoir, Delaney complains that his (and everyone's life) consists of two separate columns--public and private, intellectual and sexual, literary and non-verbal--whose texts can never intersect. Then he blithely proceeds to describe everything from getting an erection when three years old holding the hand of a corpse in his father's mortuary, to publishing a first novel at age twenty, to having Auden and Isherwood over for tea one afternoon in the same beautiful ...more
Simply my favorite work of gay autobiography. Delany's experience may be unique as a gay, African-American writer of science-fiction in the 1960s. I mean, to be regularly published. Or not. What do I know? Only that this memoir is endlessly fascinating for: its depiction of life in NYC, what is was like to be from a black middle-class family, to be part of a long-term interracial marriage, to meet everyone, to have great gay sex in the dark corners of the city. This is one of those books I devou ...more
Delany recounts, in prose both conversational but incisive, his formative childhood and early adult years. The book details with frank openness his early sexual and literary adventures, those which were short-lived and those which were more long-lasting. Perhaps most interesting was to read Delany reading Delany, that is- his reflections on the writing of his early novels.
Iain Gardener
the best biography I have ever read! Delany focuses on a brief period in his life; living in the est village in the mid-1960s, but how powerfully he evokes the mise en scene. Until I read this book I hadn't heard of Delany, but this book has made me ant to read his sci-fi wroks and as soon as I have the money to buy them I look forward to a pleasurable read
The fascinating story of one of our finest SF writers, although, of course, his work is not just SF. Warning, though, some of it is quite graphic. I found it very interesting reading, though
Feb 19, 2012 Julia marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
One reviewer said "all i remember is trucks. trucks and endless dongs."

Now I must read this book

A beautiful memoir, and a great guide to Dhalgren.
Morgan Dhu
Samuel Delany's memoir, The Motion of Light in Water: East Village Sex and Science Fiction Writing 1960-1965, is as much an exploration of memory and the processes of representation of both memory and thought as it is traditional (or rather, non-traditional) memoir. As Jo Walton says in her review,

"The first time I read The Motion of Light in Water, Delany had been one of my favourite writers for at least ten years, but in that time I had known almost nothing about him. I remember going “Wow” a
Delany is a master. What else need be said?
The sheer honesty with which he writes about his sexual encounters tells quite a bit about the sexual mores of the time. To read about the openness possible during repressive times, and the prevalence of sexual encounters at the time now, in this day and age, is remarkable. Every chapter left me feeling that the struggle for "normalcy" has perhaps taken away the honesty of sexual intent that was so unique to gay male culture then. Perhaps this was some
I think Delany’s admitting to the fallacy of memory (both in the mini introduction and sprinkled throughout the rest of the pages) is what makes his memoir as fascinating as it is unreliable. He admits that the order of events occasionally get lost in time’s shuffle and certainly that the order matters to the context of the emotions. He even admits that the way he recalls things may not actually be the way events transpired. Strangely, this did not have the effect of me deciding that what I was ...more
This is the super-revealing memoir of the young Sam Delany, starting, more or less, when he meets Marilyn Hacker, and ending, mostly, when he and she split somewhat permanently when he goes to Luxembourg.

The intervening pages include a lot of good stuff, probably most significantly a frank portrait of gay culture in the East Village (before it was called that) and, alongside it, some occasionally lucid, occasionally impenetrable notes on writing, art, etc.

The book is arranged in a weird numeric
Maybe my favorite memoir of all time? Highly recommended. Even if it were not a good book, Delaney is so interesting and has led such a fascinating life that it would be a great read, but the writing is beautiful, sublime. I talk to people all the time who are Delaney fans but have never read this book and I think it's a tragedy. If you only read one of his books make it this one! (...and then you'll want to move on to all the rest.)
Roger Leatherwood
Delany's second autobiographical book retells his seminal experiences in New York during the late '50s and '60s negotiating the artists', writers', and gay scenes there as grew up figuring out and building who he was and inspired him.

Deceptively simple in its chronological telling of various adventures and his impressions, and not as "political" as the later Times Square Red, Times Square Blue, it still gives powerful insight into what it was (is) like growing up talented, curious, gay and open-
More like an act of wizardry, magically conjuring up the past, than just a mere memoir. But not just conjuring the past, for Delany writes on a multitude of levels, exploring both time and space with ease. He may be the smartest writer I've ever read, yet even at his most complex and philosophical, he renders complicated ideas simply. The brilliance and beauty of this book--and Delany's life in a way--arise out of a kismet collision: the joy and boldness and naivety of youth; the possibility and ...more
George Ilsley
A unique and fascinating book, from what I can remember. Gay memoirs at this time did not involve young, married, black science fiction writers. Now that I've starting thinking about this book, I want to re-read it!
This book i gave to my father as a birthday gift back in 88, having noticed other titles by Delany on his shelf.
After reading it myself shortly after him i understood his silence about the book....
mr. kate
Delaney really really likes guys who bite their nails...

This might be my favorite memoir of all time...His descriptions of New York are so recognizable and yet forgien. I'm also a fan of Delany's non-linear memory based format and the scientific form of number chapters (if you would even call them chapters). I wanted the book to go on (and it does, he's written other memoirs) and I think that's partially because of it's structure, Reading The Motion of Light in Water is ultimatly like sitting at
By turns fascinating and mundane, this is a look at Delany's life but also a snapshot of LGBT history. While not every section is amazing, the continued meditation on memory and its flaws is.
Bloody brilliant. A fascinating memoir, beautifully written. "Sex and science fiction writing in the East Village 1957-1965" pretty much sums it up.
I guess this isn't actually a piece of speculative fiction, but in some ways it reads like one, and of course that is what Delaney is known for. This is a sexy sexy book, and not just because of all the gay sex that's in it, but because it is so profoundly intelligent about race, class, writing, and life. My father gave me this book, and has been instrumental in making me love Delaney, and I've recently been able to re-establish that appreciation through all of the younger queer folks who also f ...more
i liked this book. the style it was written in bothered me in the beginning. i think that more due to my needing something more satisfying following guns, germs and steel. i kept on and i am glad i did. he is a queer in early 60's new york, lived in alphabet city and described aspects of complicated and interesting sexual politics, and living as an artist in an intelligent and engaging way. i definately want to read other books he's written about new york and check out his sci fi.
this is such a great book on so many levels: for finding out about the literary and artistic mileau in nyc in the early 60s; as a sort of auto-ethnographic record of the underground and illegal gay male cruising scene in the city; as a narrative of growing up as an "othered" type of person and how queerness, race, or family can fragment a memory or telling or identity. add all this to the fact that delany is a consummate writer and a delicate literary scientist.
pg 11, getting into it, intelligent, very frank about sex, Jo Walton liked it on

pg 45, just married Marylin Hacker, though gay

pg 108, John Steinbeck on one page, then bathroom sex on the next. But it's mostly very cerebral. At least he's starting to talk about his first sf novel.
You can't really review (let alone rate) someone's life. Delany is a much-lauded author whose fiction I've always bounced off. This account of his life (primarily from 18 to early 20s) also functions as a discussion of memory, and of the choices made in narrative and the re-telling of true stories, the variations of which occur because of different speakers, different choices, and imperfect recollection.
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Autobiographical writing 1 17 Aug 04, 2007 08:40AM  
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Samuel Ray Delany, also known as "Chip," is an award-winning American science fiction author. He was born to a prominent black family on April 1, 1942, and raised in Harlem. His mother, Margaret Carey Boyd Delany, was a library clerk in the New York Public Library system. His father, Samuel Ray Delany, Senior, ran a successful Harlem undertaking establishment, Levy & Delany Funeral Home, on 7t ...more
More about Samuel R. Delany...
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“I was a young black man, light-skinned enough so that four out of five people who met me, of whatever race, assumed I was white.... I was a homosexual who now knew he could function heterosexually.

And I was a young writer whose early attempts had already gotten him a handful of prizes....

So, I thought, you are neither black nor white.

You are neither male nor female.

And you are that most ambiguous of citizens, the writer.

There was something at once very satisfying and very sad, placing myself at this pivotal suspension. It seemed, in the park at dawn, a kind of revelation--a kind of center, formed of a play of ambiguities, from which I might move in any direction. ”
“17.2 One evening I was to meet Marilyn up at her mother's apartment for our ritual Friday night dinner. On my way up to the Bronx, when I got off at the 175th Street station, I decided to stop in and see what sort of sexual activity was going on in the subway john there. I'd never gone into that one before, perhaps because I usually came there with Marilyn.
I pushed into the yellow-tiled space, with its dim, caged light-bulbs. There was only one guy at the urinal, a tall workman in greens and scuffed orange construction boots-- which had, only in the last year or so, become standard wear for the nation's laborers. I stood a stall away from him, and we glanced at each other. When I smiled, he turned toward me.
I reached for his penis.
Holding it, I realized something was wrong with it, but, for the moment, couldn't quite figure what. For its thickness and harness it was too short. It ended in a kind of flat stump, like a sawed-off dowel, without the collar or taper of glans, making me think he was uncircumcised. Only there was no cuff of skin.
That's when he said, a little hoarsely, "That's what there is. If you want it, it's yours. But that's it." And I realized that, either from medical procedure or something else, the first inch or so had been amputated.
He came very fast.
I wanted to talk with him afterward, but he zipped up once we were finished and hurried away. I never saw him again, though I looked for him. But the image stayed, unsettlingly, for a while.”
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