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Black Universe: Samuel Delany’s Early Sci-Fi

June 17, 2021 via Zoom

Critics Jayna Brown (Black Utopias) and Tavia Nyong’o (Afro-Fabulations) joined author and poet John Keene (Counternarratives) to discuss the impact and enduring significance of the work of Samuel R. Delany. Following the discussion, Delany read from his forthcoming book, Of Solids and Surds.

Often cited as a foundational figure in what has come to be called Afrofuturism, Delany also pioneered highly complex literary experiments that defy spacetime and entangle readers in the realia of other worlds. Deeply committed to the transgressive powers of estrangement, Delany simultaneously mastered and unsettled the conventions of science fiction in ways the genre is still catching up with. His work anticipates the sex and gender nonconformity of today, even as his meditations on technoscientific advance within societies structured in race, gender and power hierarchies helped invent the bleak genre of cyberpunk. We are already living amidst some of the scenarios his fictions fabulated.

Writing in the heyday of ‘high theory’ Delany’s speculative essays and stories also form a kind of critical theory in their own right. Ever since humanity stared into the cosmos, the Black universe has stared back at us. From his earliest space operas forward, the fiction of Delany has persistently extended literature’s forays into that Blackness, deepening and darkening our sense of the possible.