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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

4.3 of 5 stars 4.30  ·  rating details  ·  541 ratings  ·  56 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
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
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
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
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-
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!
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
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.
This book looks at sexuality in a time period that had both people who wanted to get beyond what was considered 'normal' and those who wanted to enforce what they saw as right and wrong. Delany's style is best described as a stream of consciousness, but it was strong writing.
This is and felt like a very, very personal book- and I honestly felt odd reading it in places. I recommend it, but expect to be challenged (I had some pre-existing prejudices that I didn't even know existed that this book
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.
Samuel Delany mentions making this discovery in The Motion of Light in Water. He and his partner accidentally put on one another's jeans, and he was suddenly exclaiming that HE HAD NO POCKETS and she was suddenly exclaiming, WHOA, POCKETS. This was in the 1960's. The 1960's.
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.
Joshunda Sanders
This was one of the books that I snagged years ago when I worked in San Francisco. I still want to read some of his fiction, but let me just say that if you pick this up you are essentially about to read 600 pages about how awesome Samuel Delany's sex life was as a married gay man in the 1950s/1960s in the East Village. It's up to you to decide whether that's something you need to spend 600 pages reading.
Jun 30, 2007 khalil rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: nerds, queers, and those obsessed with nyc
Shelves: sffantasy, biography
The autobiography of a gay black scifi writer, living in the East Village in the 60s. Seriously, what more could I ask for? The book alternates between almost dry literary deconstruction, personal history, and hot gay public sex. yes! My favorite part is when he and his wife hook up with this traveling kid for awhile. it sounds so fucking sweet. This book definitely made me apprciate his fiction more.
The first 450 pages were 5 star for me- my enjoyment dropped off a bit during the last hundred or so.
Jenny Schmenny
I was excited to read that one of Delaney's boyhood crushes was unmistakably my mom's best friend at Bronx Science. I haven't finished this lengthy memoir yet, and I keep getting bogged down despite the fact that Delaney was obviously a fascinating person with a keen intellect. I should try reading his fiction and then going back to the memoir.
Delany has had a terrifically interesting life--writer, musician, homosexual-who-was-nonetheless-married-to-poet-Marilyn-Hacker, and he writes about his experiences as interestingly as if he were writing fiction. A memoir that defies conventional ideas about what a memoir looks like.
Feb 01, 2008 Nathanial rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: sexy beasts
Shelves: biography
old favorite. delany's memoir moves in digital form, with numbered chapters and subchapters delineated by decimal places. his title image becomes a recurrent motif to demonstrate the dynamic relationship of word and body, materiality and desire, or memory and lived experience.
I found this interesting as a chronicle of New York pre-Stonewall for a young gay man, and interesting for its relative inattention to Delany's fiction. There's a fair bit about one lost novel, but far less about the others (as advertised in the title, I guess.)
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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
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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. ”
“...I looked out the window at walls of moonlit cloud rising beside us as though we we were at the bottom of some, gray and ivory canyon, hung above the moon-smashed sea...

But, with whatever hindsight, I suppose the reason that I want to close on a consideration of these words is that the moon-solid progress through high, drifting cumulus is — read them again — at the very opposite of what we perceive on a liquid's tilting and untilting top, and so becomes the other privileged pole among the images of this study, this essay, this memoir.

Or perhaps, as it is only a clause whose syntactic place has been questioned by my own unscholarly researches, I merely want to fix it before it vanishes like water, like light, like the play between them we only suggest, but never master, with the word motion.”
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