Category Archives: Delany
I admire writing as a profession more and more everyday. In a letter to Joanna Russ, Samuel Delany has a brief rant about SF writers who try to be entertaining. He believes that this is a mistake on behalf of the writer because writing that tries to numbly entertain the masses is making a big sacrifice in meaning. Additionally, he thinks that the work of a writer should instead be sought out by the few for whom it is deeply relevant, creating a strong bond between the writer and reader (Delany to Russ, October 26, 1971).
I assume this is a constant struggle working in the humanities, but I feel a similar way about being in the human sciences. The general public often approaches these fields with the hope of learning something novel about the human condition. This can be frustrating because they often don’t see the value in all the hard work we’re putting into the “minutia”. Research in the human sciences is a slow and abstract process, much like that of the “hard” sciences (with which, for some reason, people have a higher tolerance for being boring). I think much of what I study in linguistics would be considered esoteric or useless by the general population. The thing is, however, that we’re not trying to give people some “cute” topic of idle chit-chat for their next brunch parties. We’re trying to push human understanding of these topics forward, and this requires just as much time and patience as it does for any of the other sciences.
Letters from Samuel Delany to Joanna Russ, Coll. 261, Box 3, Folder 1. University of Oregon Archives.
Sometimes it’s hard to remember that the authors that we’re studying don’t hang out with each other on a daily basis. With so much correspondence in the UO Special Collections to read, there seems to be a never-ending dialogue between these writers that simply must continue over Sunday brunches and late-evening walks. Aren’t those the things that all authors do?
Apparently, some of them don’t. Because many of the authors are quite geographically diverse, some of them only see each other at conferences or when one of them makes a great trek to spend a weekend with another. Delany writes to Russ in his letters about how sometimes he doesn’t feel like he really knows her, since he only sees her from her own self-representations in her letters. They do meet in person sometimes, but more often than not they are forced to learn about each others’ personalities through letters and professional writing.
This is something that I think everyone can relate to—not seeing a friend as often as you’d like, and thereby needing to find out about each others’ lives via written correspondence—but authors have an extra perk that the rest of us don’t have: It’s their job to be articulate in writing. I wonder what this means for their relationships: Are the relationships between writers that are based on written correspondence more fully-developed or cleverly detailed than the same kinds of relationships between non-writers? Or do they get bogged down in storytelling techniques?
In the UO Special Collections, there is a lot of correspondence between Joanna Russ and Samuel R. Delany. Delany played a large part in developing Russ’ understanding of her own sexuality and power as a woman. Between the two of them are multiple letters that talk about what it means to be an artist, especially a non-heterosexual and/or female artist.
Because of the way that the special collections has collected the letters of these authors, I will primarily be looking at letters that Delany sent to Russ. I will use these letters to try and dissect themes that crop up in Russ’s stories. Although it is extremely presumptuous to assume complete understanding of any causation between an outside force and an artist’s output, I believe that the friendship between these two authors was so strong that I can point to its effects on Russ’ writings.
I was initially drawn to this project through my own love of Delany’s work and interest in his life. When I found out that the UO Special Collections had boxes and boxes of his letters to an author we would be looking at this term, I was excited to get my hands on tangible pieces of his life. I’m excited to take an even closer look at this ephemera to better understand how Delany related to the novels we’ll be looking at in class. If I can uncover that he had any influence on the writing by one of the genre’s main authors, I’ll consider this final project to be a resounding success.
Joanna Russ Papers, Boxes 3 and 4, Coll 261, Special Collections & University Archives, University of Oregon Libraries, Eugene, Or.
Delany, Samuel R. The Motion of Light in Water: Sex and Science Fiction Writing in the East Village, 1957-1965. New York: Arbor House/W. Morrow, 1988. Print.
Delany, Samuel R. Trouble on Triton: An Ambiguous Heterotopia. [Middletown, Conn.]: Wesleyan UP, 1996. Print.
Russ, Joanna. The Adventures of Alyx. London: Women’s, 1985. Print.
Russ, Joanna. The Female Man. Boston: Beacon, 1986. Print.
Russ, Joanna. The Two of Them. New York: Berkley Pub. : Distributed by Putnam, 1978. Print.
Being mired in academia can sometimes be exhausting. The constant rigid adherence to a 10-week timeline and flow of assignments and meetings form a bubble around those invested in education, so it sometimes is hard to remember that there is a whole world out there that doesn’t behave in this peculiar way.
While browsing the Special Collections for a (surprise) school project, it was then very funny and surprising to hear two of my favorite authors wryly discuss the pitfalls of education.
In a letter to Joanna Russ, Samuel Delany wrote about how professors in academia are likely to think of the world’s whole range of human intelligence as perfectly represented in the gap between their worst and best students. He explained that since these professors are surrounded with learning minds all day, they sometimes can get trapped in the mindset that the whole human race works on the same sliding scale. (Is there a ring of truth to that, Stabile? Hopefully in teaching FemSciFi this term your worldview is markedly more positive than some other terms.)
Delany, at the time of the letter’s writing in 1971, had taken some classes at City College of New York but had not yet become a professor at Temple University in Philadelphia. He had also attended the semi-prestigious Bronx High School of Science, so Delany was no stranger to teachers and their (sometimes exasperated, sometimes optimistic) attitude towards students.
Although many of the letters between Samuel R. Delany and Joanna Russ range in topic from quotidian events to discussions about queer theory and literature, a few are pure gossip.
Delany goes on at length in one 1971 letter to Russ about a dinner party he was a guest at, detailing the strange personalities of everyone in attendance. These comments (though sometimes factual and enlightening, like the person’s name and occupation) often steer into scathing critiques of manners, eating habits, and conversations. Nothing is ever too biting and Delany never comes off as cruel, but he has a knack for describing personalities with a laser beam-like approach.
In another letter, the pair discuss a recent article about Ursula K. Le Guin. The author of the article explains Le Guin’s extreme liberalism and how it is reflected in her literary work. It also outlines the way that Le Guin has steered Science Fiction writing back towards utopian settings. Russ, Delany, and the article author all seem to agree that utopian fiction is a fad that has passed and Le Guin’s resurrection of a failing genre is an annoying retread of old topics, albeit with new conclusions regarding feminism, lesbianism, and anarchism. Delany, the writer of this letter, seems to admire Le Guin from afar, although it seems he doesn’t know her personally. (Especially because he always seems to have an anecdote about everyone in his letters—No one is simply ‘Joe,’ they’re more like ‘beautiful, blond-haired Joe with the beautiful, blonde-haired wife.’)