Samuel R. Delany is a highly intelligent man who comes of a highly intelligent and educated family. His grandfather, Henry Beard Delany, was an educator and the first elected African-American bishop in the Episcopal church, while his two aunts, Sadie and Bessie Delany, achieved national fame in the ’90s, when both were already over a hundred years old, as the co-authors (with Amy Hill Hearth) of the memoir Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters’ First 100 Years, which stayed six months on the New York Times bestseller list and landed them both in The Guinness Book of World Records as the country’s oldest authors.
Delany is also a long-out-of-the-closet bisexual, as well as being an articulate and pleasant companion in informal gatherings; a college professor whose major worry is that he keeps getting promoted, thus giving him less and less time with those he cares most about, his students; a highly esteemed writer of science fiction; and, finally, a person who is never addressed by his friends as Sam, Samuel or any other variant of the name his parents gave him.
The reason for this is that he wanted it that way. As a child, young Delany was deeply envious of friends and schoolmates who had nicknames, which he did not. His chance to remedy this came on his first day at summer camp, at around age twelve, when another camper asked him what he was called. He saw his opportunity and took it. “They mostly call me ‘Chip,’” he said, and to his friends he has been Chip Delany ever since.
In 1971 1961, he married the poet Marilyn Hacker. It was not because of any over-arching romance between the two of them, and there was nothing about “forsaking all others” in the marriage vows. It was an open, not to say wide-open, marriage, with both Chip and Marilyn having frequent extra-marital affairs with partners of both genders. What both Chip and Marilyn wanted was the comfort of living in a family, and in 1974, they completed it by having a baby daughter, Iva Hacker-Delany, who grew up to be a director in New York’s theatrical community before going on to become an emergency physician.
At the time. they were living in London, where Marilyn was working as an antiquarian book-dealer. In that same period Betty Anne and I happened to also be living in London, where Betty Anne was teaching a one-semester course to college students, and I made up my mind to drop in on the Delanys one day to say hello.
That day was a while in coming. Although I love London, I am not really very good at getting around in its maze of short and unplanned streets, so unlike sensible New York’s numbered ones, and I kept putting it off. Then one day, after running some other errand, I realized that I was close to the Delany flat and on impulse headed for their door. My timing was poor. Both Chip and Marilyn were off on other errands, but I did get a chance to meet the baby and her sitter.
Having a child in a foreign country gave Chip and Marilyn a completely unexpected problem. The law, as they knew, is straightforward. A child born of two American citizens is entitled to American citizenship — and an American passport — regardless of where he or she happens to get born, so the Delanys filed Iva’s application and returned to their flat to await delivery of her passport. It, however, didn’t come. Instead they got a note to say that the application had been turned down.
When, in consternation, Chip and Marilyn begged the American consul for an explanation it wasn’t helpful. It was the baby’s name that made all the trouble, the clerk said. If they had named her Iva Delany, or Iva Hacker, or even Iva Hacker Delany there would have been no problem. But what they had recklessly done was throw in a game-altering hyphen between the surnames of her two parents, and “Hacker-Delany,” as anyone could plainly see, was a new name, not borne by either parent, and thus incapable of conferring citizenship on the child.
For a time their chances of ever getting home again looked bleak. But then they were lucky enough to find a higher-up State Department official who was not a certifiable moron. He swept all those finely split hairs aside and ordered the issuance of a passport to Iva Hacker-Delany and the family got thankfully back to New York. (Chip and Marilyn divorced a few years later, but remained the best of friends anyhow.)
Apart from an occasional bumping into each other at some science-fiction event I didn’t see much of Chip for a while. While I was still editing If and Galaxy I did my best to get some short stories from him for the magazines, with only limited success. Chip’s most comfortable length was the Ace Books novel of maybe 60,000 words or, for an Ace Double, somewhat less. Indeed, my old Futurian pal, Donald Wollheim, Ace’s editor, had been Samuel R. Delany’s principal publisher, with novels like The Jewels of Aptor.
By then, I had landed a dream job as science-fiction editor for the independent paperback giant, Bantam Books — didn’t have to come in to the office except when I felt like it, had total freedom to publish any property I chose without needing to get anyone’s permission or approval, or even without needing anyone’s okay to offer as high or as low an advance and royalties as I chose. It was the very model of the position that any ink-stained editorial wretch would have given his eyeteeth to be offered.
It did occur to me that it might be nice to add an occasional Delany novel to my list, especially when I noticed that Donald had almost stopped bringing out new Delany titles of his own. But I already had enough irons in the fire to keep me busy, so I didn’t do much more than wish that some such might drop in my lap.
Then, without warning Chip’s agent sent me the manuscript of an unpublished, and uncharacteristically long, Delany novel. It was called Dhalgren.
(The conclusion of the Delany story, covering the Dhalgren miracle, pretty soon.)
Chip Delany, Part 2