Samuel R. Delany's worlds: An introduction

One of the great joys, if you’re lucky, of being in academia is being able to thank people and an even greater pleasure to be able to thank the mentors of your mentors.

When Charles Bernstein approached me about organizing this text-based raising of the glass to Samuel R. Delany (aka “Chip” Delany) I was nervous, humbled, and grateful for the chance. This came on the heels of the passing of two other people I looked up to, José Muñoz and Amiri Baraka, whose work Chip also admired. The magnitude of thanks takes on this bigger quality when the air is suffused with the ephemera of those who aren’t corporal, those who inhabit the same space in your heartspace that great art pervades. 

I’m deeply grateful to the contributors to the actual event and to their written considerations published here. (Some are direct transcriptions, while others are reworked for the print edition.) It’s a big deal to talk about a genius and it’s another kind of big deal to put it in print to put it down into words. My own failure to adequately address the magnitude of this organizing is emblematic in my repeated efforts to be, cool and, you know, sophisticated around Mr. Delany. What I can do is put together these thank-you notes, poems, and essays, for the record, and out of love for this great giant among giants.

I’m very grateful, then, for others to speak on his magnitude as part of this collection. All of the people featured here were directly involved in the celebrating of Samuel R. Delany, poetically, in April 2014. (A couple of people were unable to contribute to these published sections, but their energy contributed to the ebullience of that day as much as the smiling faces in the packed house.) It was a beautiful day and the celebration began by the screening of the loving, and extraordinary, documentary about Chip presented by filmmaker Fred Barney Taylor. “The Polymath, or, The Life and Opinions of Samuel R. Delany, Gentleman,” moved many in the audience to tears. Not only to be in the presence of such gracious, unflinching brilliance, and to see him receive and appreciate praise grounded in the poetic community. Our gathering’s love of his love of language.

The magnitude of Chip’s impact in a variety of fields is impossible to calculate, much less organize into one volume. Here’s hoping for more and more celebrations, compilations, cheers, toasts, and discussions on his monumental work and importance to so many people and at so many stages of their lives. Chip is a constellation that continues to be fixed, yet revolves, for me and for so many lovers of poetry, of resonant words. I’m eternally grateful to be part of bringing these many hands together that have lifted a glass in Samuel R. Delany’s honor during his birth month in 2014, a microcosm of his worlds-full of admirers. As this is coming out in February, a month, in the US, given to emphasizing the experiences of Black people and Black culture, I’m especially glad to share this celebration of one of the world’s great Black thinkers, writers, creators. A maker of many worlds. Worlds for everyone.

This gathering of thoughts and feelings are the text versions of the presentations for “The Motion of Light: Celebrating Samuel R. Delany’s Performative Poetics” held at University of Pennsylvania’s Kelly Writers House on April 11, 2014.