The winner of four Nebula awards and two Hugo awards, Samuel R. Delany is an author, literary theorist, and professor. A prolific science fiction writer, he is the author of Babel-17, The Einstein Intersection, Dhalgren, The Mad Man, and The Return to Nevèrÿon series, as well as the best-selling nonfiction book Times Square Red, Times Square Blue. In 1989 he was recognized by the Lambda Book Report as one of the "Fifty Men and Women Who Have Done Most to Change Our Attitudes Toward Gayness in the Last Hundred Years."
Q: What were some of the creative challenges you had to overcome during the composition of your first novel, The Jewels of Aptor, when you were nineteen years old?
I'd been having a bunch of extremely vivid dreams that I wanted to use for settings for a novel. At the same time, I wanted to make the main character a poet instead of some kind of military or athletic male. I wanted a female character who seemed interested in science and still others who went against type. It was written for my wife, who had gotten a job at Ace Books and used to come home complaining about the female characters in the books she edited, and she read it pretty much chapter by chapter. When I was halfway through, she suggested I submit it, and when I finished it, we did so under a pen name. She told her boss, the editor-in-chief Donald Wolheim, that she'd found it in the slush pile. He read it, liked it, and drew up contracts. At which point, she confessed that it was her husband who had written it.
Q: You’ve spoken before about the aesthetic register, the human appetite for art and order that is “as autonomous as hunger or sex.” Do you view this register as a social construct? Is it innate?
I think basically what I'm suggesting here is that we want our narrative stories to be about something, to have some form, to hold us to them as far as they can. Some of these questions are answered in the introductory essay to ABC: Three Short Novels. (Wolheim rejected the second book I turned in and then accepted the third, fourth, and fifth. He did it at first with some hesitation and only grew enthusiastic with the third of what was published as a trilogy, The Fall of the Towers: City of a Thousand Suns.)
Q: What is your writing and editing process like?
Again, in a situation of this sort, it's too complex to go into the process with any specificity. I think, I plan, I write, and I rewrite. That's about all I can say. The Fall of the Towers trilogy was an attempt to create a metaphor for some of what I saw in the streets of the East Village during the Vietnam War. I saw the drunken, unhappy young soldiers returning from the war or on leave, who did not seem to have been turned into responsible young men ready to take on the citizenship of having gone off to fight in Vietnam. This was a contrast to the way—say—Robert Heinlein felt that the military experience would transform the soldiers and at least the young officers he wrote about in science fiction novels such as Starship Troopers.
Editor's note: This interview was conducted in conjunction with Howl. It has been edited for content.