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Some inside talk from a literary outsider

June 08, 2003|Michael T. Jarvis

Science-fiction writer Samuel R. Delany was at Los Angeles Central Library recently to read selections from his latest book, "Aye, and Gomorrah," a collection of short stories he wrote between 1960 and 1985. Delany blazed a science-fiction frontier in 1974 with his controversial and experimental literary tome "Dhalgren," which confronted sexuality, race and gender issues in an 816-page epic.

After the reading, Delany, who teaches writing at Temple University in Philadelphia, discussed sex, writing, teaching and the "outsider" status of science fiction with writer Steve Erickson. Below, some excerpts from Delany:

"I was writing, making stabs at writing novels all through my adolescence and they were unreadable. But eventually I wrote one and it sold and it happened to be a science-fiction novel. So I just kept on writing the kind that people would buy and after 2 1/2 of them or 3 1/2 of them, one day it struck me: 'Oh, I must be a science-fiction writer.' But I never made a decision to be a science-fiction writer. It was something that just happened....

"As a gay man, half of my life was pre-Stonewall and now just a little bit more than half of my life is post-Stonewall.... I scandalize my straight graduate students regularly when they turn in another story about the guy whose girlfriend goes and cheats on him, and he walks all the way back to his hotel room in the rain. I say monogamy is not the only game in town. You don't get points by pushing the monogamy button. There are different kinds of relationships. There are open relationships that really work. They require thought, intelligence, responsibility to the other person. You really have to think through how these things are done....

"Pornography has been around for a long, long time, but it has never been accepted as part of literature. Science fiction has been around for a long, long time, but it has never been accepted as part of literature. And you know, why pretend that it was? ...

"It's kind of paradoxical that here in the para-literary genre -- these genres outside the literary precincts, and I think of science fiction as very much part of the para-literary genre, including my own....The genre boundaries are power boundaries and they're real power boundaries. The possibility of really bringing the two together has about as much weight as if people naively saying, 'Oh let's [have] all the races get together and we'll have no problems at all, starting tomorrow.' Tell me another one. Again, the history is too strong, and you don't want to give that up."

-- Michael T. Jarvis

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