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17 Samuel R. Delany Quotes: Wise Words from the Sci-Fi Grand Master

In honor of his April 1st birthday, celebrate 79 years of the science fiction trailblazer’s life.

samuel r. delany birthday feature
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  • Photo Credit: Alchetron

 “The problem isn't to learn to love humanity, but to learn to love those members of it who happen to be at hand.”  —Dhalgren

"Endings to be useful must be inconclusive." — The Einstein Intersection

Samuel Delany quotes
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  • Samuel Delany in New York in 2016.

    Photo Credit: Houari B./Flickr (CC)

"How we treat our invalids—our mad, our physically or mentally compromised family members—does tell you something about who we are politically, historically, culturally."  —The Paris Review interview

“Historically it's a very new, not to mention vulgar, idea that the spectator's experience should be identical to, or even have anything to do with, the artist's. That idea comes from an over-industrialized society which has learned to distrust magic.” —Dhalgren

Samuel Delany quotes Octavia Butler Avery Brooks
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  • Actor Avery Brooks (L.) and Samuel R. Delany (R.) at a tribute to Delany's friend and former student Octavia Butler.

    Photo Credit: Houari B./Flickr (CC)

"Sometimes you want to say things, and you're missing an idea to make them with, and missing a word to make the idea with. In the beginning was the word. That's how somebody tried to explain it once. Until something is named, it doesn't exist." —Babel-17

"Science fiction isn’t just thinking about the world out there. It’s also thinking about how that world might be—a particularly important exercise for those who are oppressed, because if they’re going to change the world we live in, they—and all of us—have to be able to think about a world that works differently." — The Paris Review interview

Samuel Delany quotes New York State Writers Hall of Fame
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  • Samuel Delany was inducted June, 2016, into the New York State Writers Hall of Fame along with Maya Angelou, Stephen Sondheim, Roger Angell, Roz Chast, Jean Craighead George, Grace Paley, and Don Marquis. Pictured here with editor Betsy Mitchell.

    Photo Credit: Betsy Mitchell

"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." —The Motion of Light in Water

“I’ve often said that, if gay people didn’t exist, straight people would have had to invent them.” -Public Books interview with John Plotz

Samuel R. Delany quote

"I'm a gay man who came through the AIDs epidemic. The notion that being genteel about intimacy ... That kills people. That kills people. And I just did not want to be complicit in murder." —Strand Bookstore discussion

“You meet a new person, you go with him and suddenly you get a whole new city...you go down new streets, you see houses you never saw before, pass places you didn't even know were there. Everything changes.” -Dhalgren

Samuel R. Delany quote

“Good writing is clear. Talented writing is energetic. Good writing avoids errors. Talented writing makes things happen in the reader's mind — vividly, forcefully...” - About Writing: Seven Essays, Four Letters & Five Interviews

"Desire isn’t appeased by its object, only irritated into something more than desire that can join with the stars to inform the chaotic heavens with sense." — Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand

“Praise the sun's warmth on the water in summer and the cold frost on the stones in winter and the difference between them, and you will praise the act [of creation], for the act may only be praised through difference.” - Tales of Nevèrÿon

Tales from Neveryon quote

“We all live our lives from the inside of our bodies out, not from the outside in. Which is why fiction has the texture that it does.” -The Atheist in the Attic

“One writes a story to find out what happens in it. Before it is written it sits in the mind like a piece of overheard gossip or a bit of intriguing tattle. The story process is like taking up such a piece of gossip, hunting down the people actually involved, questioning them, finding out what really occurred, and visiting pertinent locations. -The Jewel-Hinged Jaw: Notes on the Language of Science Fiction

“The only important elements in any society are the artistic and the criminal, because they alone, by questioning the society’s values, can force it to change.” -Empire Star

“What's more, I was free to do anything that did not hurt others that strengthened me and helped me in the one thing that we are all put on this earth to do: help one another — because it is the only thing that, in the long run, gives us pleasure, as receiving love and friendship and affection is the only thing that gives us joy and ameliorates the dread of our inevitable extinction.” -Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders