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The Motion Of Light In Water: Sex And Science Fiction Writing In The East Village

4.3  ·  Rating Details ·  694 Ratings  ·  74 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
Paperback, 584 pages
Published April 23rd 2004 by Univ Of Minnesota Press (first published 1988)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 2,255)
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David M
Sep 07, 2016 David M rated it really liked it
Clearly Grindr's got nothing on the New York docks circa 1961...

A bohemian memoir, not exactly what I was expecting. It's a fairly long book but our hero's not even in his mid twenties by the end. I thought Delany was a father, that he and his wife had a child when they were still very young, but if so it's not mentioned in these pages. His whole relationship with his his wife is a bit mysterious. Possibly he's being discreet to respect her privacy? It sounds like they had a great partnership as
Feb 20, 2008 Samuel rated it it was amazing
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
Dec 05, 2015 Megan rated it it was amazing
Possibly my favorite memoir, this book has really amplified my yearning for more big city literary and artistic community and experience. More than that, I appreciated how Delany isolated various strands of his life only to twine them together again, constructing clear narrative paths through time then showing how they are each messy and inseparable from one another, and how difficult it is to locate causality and correspondence in memory. Also get this: in the early 60s Delany paid $58 rent for ...more
May 06, 2015 Michelle rated it really liked it
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
Sep 10, 2013 Darren rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 01, 2009 Jessica rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoir
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.
Jul 26, 2007 Dmitry rated it it was amazing
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
Jul 30, 2013 Edward rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
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
Jun 09, 2015 Jacob rated it it was amazing
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
Dec 18, 2008 Iain Gardener rated it it was amazing
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
Aug 04, 2009 Charles rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
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
One reviewer said "all i remember is trucks. trucks and endless dongs."

Now I must read this book

May 20, 2007 Ben rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
A beautiful memoir, and a great guide to Dhalgren.
Rambling Reader
Mar 29, 2015 Rambling Reader rated it really liked it
Aug 30, 2016 Vee rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2016
I had never heard of Samuel R. Delany, but now I think I will search out some of his fiction. This memoir is engaging and fascinating, it offers much to think about in terms of sexuality, race and gender and often challenged my preconceived notions of life for gay and black individuals in '60s America. Yet my favorite aspect was how Delany highlights the blurred line between history and mythology - memory and reality - and how the two are not the separate categories we would often like to consid ...more
Jan 31, 2016 Travis rated it liked it
Since Delany retired from Temple's MFA program in 2015, I've wanted to read this. As a long-time fan of his SF work, I enjoyed witnessing a younger Delany write about himself without the usual SF flourishes. Delany grapples with the unreliability of his own narration, and that itself is interesting to track across over 500 pages of writing about everything from cleaning his home to the trials and tribulations of publishing his work. What frustrated me most about the book was its tendency toward ...more
Morgan Dhu
Jun 06, 2015 Morgan Dhu rated it really liked it
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
Jan 19, 2015 J. rated it really liked it
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
Jan 04, 2013 Matt rated it it was amazing
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
Jun 07, 2013 Matt rated it liked it
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
Mar 18, 2015 Anandi rated it it was amazing
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.)
The /real/ "Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius" ;)

I read Delany's memoir for my African American Lit. class. What I haven't gotten a bead on yet is where Delany's autobiographical work/critical work falls in terms of queer theory. Is it pre or post? I dunno--I have two more books by him I need to read for the project I'm working on currently. By then I'll hopefully have a more coherent answer.
Jan 15, 2016 Macartney rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: gay-lit, best-of-2015
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
Jun 17, 2014 George Ilsley rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir, gay
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!
Rick Moss
Sep 11, 2016 Rick Moss rated it really liked it
Wordy and self-obsessed, although I suppose readers of memoirs wouldn't be surprised by that, although Delany's colorful and detailed description of life coming of age as a gay man in '60s NYC is eye-opening.
Aug 22, 2015 Omar rated it it was amazing
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
Mar 03, 2009 mr. kate rated it it was amazing
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
Mar 20, 2016 C M rated it it was amazing
I have on my bucket list, having a drink or two with Samuel Delany.

This book made me feel so psychically connected.

Oct 03, 2014 Craig rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
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.
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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. ”
“Those moments when we learn that mothers rage and fathers kill, that friends betray and authority is fallible, or that our own blank, innocent ignorance can destroy the pure, the good, and the loved are moments the very memory of which constitutes the beginning of a strategy to live in a world where such horrors exist.” 4 likes
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