A Diamond Chip: NYRSF Readings Celebrate Delany’s 75th (No April Fool’s Joke)

Samuel R. Delany

By Mark L. Blackman: On the evening of Saturday, April 1, 2017 (yes, Saturday, and not an April Fool’s joke), the New York Review of Science Fiction Readings Series commemorated the 75th birthday – the diamond jubilee – of one of speculative fiction’s most important writers and significant figures, Samuel R. “Chip” Delany, with a celebration at its venue, the Brooklyn Commons Café in Brooklyn. The extravaganza featured an essay by Terence Taylor on Dhalgren and an interview with Delany by Jim Freund; and culminated with Delany reading a new nonfiction piece. Plus, it being a party, there was cake!

Over the course of his career, which began in the 1960s, Delany has won four Nebula Awards, two Hugo Awards, the Stonewall Book Award, and the J. Lloyd Eaton Lifetime Achievement Award, been named Grand Master by SFWA (the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America) and inducted into the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame, and invited to be Guest of Honor at innumerable science fiction conventions. Outside of sf and fantasy, his work includes fiction, memoir, criticism, radio drama, and essays on sexuality and society, and, moreover, he has been a mentor and role model to a generation of writers, particularly those who are people of color.

The evening opened with a welcome from Freund, the Series’ Executive Curator, who confessed that he had been planning this event for a long time, ever since he realized that Delany’s next birthday would be his 75th, and proclaimed this as one of the Series’ largest gatherings. He then announced upcoming events in the Series: May 2 will feature an evening with the Serial Box podcasters, including Matthew Cody, Max Gladstone, Joel Derfner, Lindsay Smith and Michael Swanwick, with Amy Goldschlager as guest-host. On June 6, the readers will be Sam J. Miller and Lara Elena Donnelly.

Terence Taylor

Introducing Taylor (the Series’ Technical Director and the author of the Vampire Testament series), Freund related that Terence had been recruited onto a panel at Readercon about the 40th anniversary of Dhalgren. Taylor, it turned out, had never read the iconic novel; he began reading it on the train up, read it straight through (all 879 pages), and finished it (supplied Taylor) about an hour before the panel. His impressions grew to a 1,500-word analytical essay, “Doing Dhalgren,” which he shared. Taylor prefaced his reading by reminiscing about moving to Chip’s neighborhood, but, having not yet read Dhalgren (which was, by the way, and to our surprise, a bestseller), mercifully not “pestering” him. Delany’s literary legacy was, beyond his work, his inspiration to writers of color. (Terence treasures, and is trying to restore, a photo of himself with Delany and the late Octavia Butler.)

Taylor examined the novel’s protagonist, the “Candide-like naïf” Kid, who enters and ultimately leaves “the autumnal city,” Bellona (the name of the Roman war goddess), which seems real and is believable. Dhalgren, said Taylor, “takes root, blossoms and plants ideas in the minds of readers.” It is “an epic tale of the rite of passage that every writer takes” – Kid can only leave Bellona after he records stories, becomes a writer – so is “essential reading for every writer.” It displays “the infinite power of the written word.” Taylor concluded that Delany was a personal inspiration and encouraged him that he could do it too. Thanking Terence, Freund confessed that his first reading of Dhalgren was hard-going, but breezed through his third, and urged everyone to read the classic.

Promoting the event, Freund had written, “It is no small honor for us that we can host a jubilee for one of speculative fiction’s most important writers – one with whom we have had a long, happy association, both personal and professional. Chip Delany was one of the very first readers at this reading series some 25+ years ago. He has been a correspondent to NYRSF — the magazine whose name this series bears – throughout its existence. Samuel R. Delany’s contributions to science fiction — nay, to literature and culture — are incalculable. He has been a role model to a great many people; a highly-esteemed critic and teacher; a writer whose fiction will be studied long after we’re all forgotten; and simply a wonderful, loving human being.”

At the microphone, though, Jim’s introduction was extemporaneous. “Nova, Babel-17, The Einstein Intersection, The Star-Pit, Dhalgren, the Nevèrÿon series – books in my pocket like grains of sand.” His body of work would be an achievement for any writer, but that he did it beginning in the 1960s as a gay black man is awe-inspiring. He’s inspired millions, and particularly many of today’s foremost sf writers. Jim reminisced about the radio play of The Star-Pit, 50 years ago on WBAI (he noted that May 1 marks his own 50th anniversary on WBAI, whose studio is now two flights up from the Café) – and whose 40th anniversary was celebrated at a NYRSF reading (I reported on it at the time for SFScope), then brought up Delany for a chat.

Delany interviewed by Jim Freund

Samuel Ray Delany, Jr. was born in Harlem on April 1, 1942, the son of a funeral director, the nephew of the Delany sisters (civil rights pioneers Sadie and Bessie), and the grandson of a slave who had been taught to read and write (which was illegal) by a bored master, and who later became the head of a black Episcopal school in Raleigh, NC. Freund asked him about the first books that he read. Probably, he said, like all kids, Mother Goose, some stories in which were “problematic,” notably “Little Black Sambo.” Because his name was Sam, his cousins teased him as Sambo. Then, at a summer camp, a counselor asked him what name everyone called him. “I lied through my teeth,” and came up with “Chip.” “To this day, I prefer Chip to Samuel or Sam” (though Jeff Greenfield once called him Sammy). To the audience he said that it was “warming and humbling that so many have come out for” him.

He then did his own introduction, noting that he has been called a “sexual radical,” an Afro-Futurist” and a “Grand Master of Science Fiction.” He opined that Katherine MacLean, now in her 90s, should be named a Grand Master, and spoke up for the auxiliary literary genre of letters and journals.

A Q-&-A session opened with a question about masturbation. Unfazed, he answered and said that he doesn’t lose any dignity by telling people that he has a sex life. A former student concurred, adding that, as a professor, he talked openly about safer sex during the AIDS epidemic. The next questioner said that he thought of “the autumnal city” as New York, but what city had Delany had in mind? He responded that the exteriors were based on New York (the park is Central Park and there’s some of the Lower East Side) and the interiors on San Francisco because he started the book in New York, then moved to San Francisco. Jim Ryan asked how he felt that those two cities that he had written about had changed so much, in effect, were no longer there. “Things change,” he shrugged. Ellen Kushner said that Babel-17 and Nova were “enormous” influences, and asked why he had started writing sf. He replied because he read it and liked it. “You enter the writing world where you can,” and his then-wife (“my only wife”), Marilyn Hacker, was a slushpile reader at Ace. His first novel, The Jewels of Aptor, was submitted pseudonymously, till Don Wollheim bought it.

During the intermission, a raffle for donors was held for two copies of the audiobook of Dhalgren from Skyboat Media, read by Stefan Rudnicki. (Freund thought it “amazing” how they turned Dhalgren into an audiobook.)

Freund briefly plugged Lunacon (April 7-9 at the Westchester Marriott in Tarrytown, NY), for which he had curated a program of readings, “a damned good reading program. You should go if you can.”

Delany then read “Ash Wednesday,” after the day that he had conceived writing it (in it he alludes, at one point, to T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets), a memoir about coming up to New York from Philadelphia for a sex party for older gay men (the “Prime-Timers”) at a Doubletree, and continuing from there upstate to the mobile home of two friends in a town near Brewster, NY. The essay ranges wide, from backstories of the other men to the events (in detail) of the respective visits, and to observations about how he has changed from a monogamous heterosexual to a white-bearded “daddy” having sex with strange men, and how society-at-large has changed – same-sex marriage, protecting abortion rights (barely), and one “phallic” tower replacing “the Tuning Fork in the Sky.” Citing his introductory description, he said that there were others more sexually radical, more socially aware and into things far more marginal than science fiction. He received a well-deserved standing ovation.

Terence returned to the microphone to toast Delany and, as Freund brought out a cake (apple), the gathering sang “Happy birthday, dear Chip.” Some in the audience got a slice (I had one; it was very tasty), though the birthday boy, being diabetic, passed on it, and for the rest, as Jim said, “we’re in a lovely café.”

The (over)capacity crowd of some 130 (people were turned away from the door, and there was no space for the Jenna Felice Freebie Table) included Melissa C. Beckman, EXO Books, Moshe Feder, Amy Goldschlager, Lynn Cohen Koehler, Barbara Krasnoff (managing the door and newly a Nebula Award finalist), Ellen Kushner, John Kwok, Lissanne Lake, Kevin Maroney, Andrew Porter, James Ryan, Delia Sherman, Henry Wessels, plus the Kestenbaums (Delany’s hosts) and his partner Dennis. Afterward, people milled around, socialized and, if they hadn’t already, grabbed a bite (food, coffee, tea, beer, wine) at the Café.

NYRSF Day of the Dead Readings Remember Margot Adler

By Mark L. Blackman: On the evening of Tuesday, November 1, Samhain (rhymes with “how-when”), All Saints’ Day/All Hallows’ Day (following October 31, All Hallows’ Eve, and preceding November 2, All Souls’ Day) and the Day of the Dead (a three-day festival) – the New York Review of Science Fiction Readings Series launched (or “conjured”) a “pop-up sub-series” within that Series, the Margot Adler Memorial Readings. This inaugural edition, held at the Series’ venue, the Brooklyn Commons Café in Downtownish Brooklyn, featured Terence Taylor (who served also as guest curator and semi-retired Tech Director) and Sabrina Vourvoulias.

Margot Adler in 2004.

Margot Adler in 2004.

The evening opened as ever with executive curator Jim Freund welcoming the audience, cautioning that we were on Livestream. After briefly reporting upcoming happenings at the Café, including a pre-Election gathering and a visit by Green Party Presidential candidate Jill Stein, Freund announced future readers:

  • November 15, Kij Johnson and Sonya Taaffe;
  • December 12, Annual Family Night (another sub-series) with Ellen Kushner and Delia Sherman;
  • January 10, 2017, Phenderson Djeli Clark and Shan Chakraborty; with guest curator Rob Cameron (aka Cam, who was engineering this evening’s event);
  • February 10, James Morrow and Jack Womack;
  • March 7, siblings Malka Older and Daniel José Older (guest curator Amy Goldschlager called it Family Night II).
  • April 1, the Series will host a 75th birthday gathering for Samuel R. (Chip) Delany.

Moving along to the theme of the night’s readings, Freund observed that it was an appropriate day to initiate the Margot Adler Memorial Readings. On Samhain, like the Latino Christian Day of the Dead, he enlightened us, the veil between those who’ve passed on and our plane of existence is thinnest. He spoke at length, and with deeply heartfelt sentiments, about how Margot Adler had been a big part of his life for nearly five decades, far beyond originating in 1972 the radio program on sf and fantasy that he inherited and still hosts, Hour of the Wolf. (The live program, which took its name from the iconic Ingmar Bergman film, broadcasts and streams every Thursday morning – or, for those who haven’t yet gone to bed, Wednesday night – from 1:30-3 am on WBAI, 99.5 FM.)

He only had time to touch on her remarkable career and achievements:  broadcast journalist (on KPFA, the original Pacifica radio station, on WBAI, and on NPR’s All Things Considered and Morning Edition), Wiccan (he suggested that he may have introduced her to Neo-Paganism and called her “the Queen of Wicca of North America”), political activist, reviewer and author (Drawing Down the Moon and Vampires Are Us). It is fitting that the Series remembers her as Adler had been a speaker and guest host at a number of NYRSF readings, particularly if they involved one of her more recently acquired passions, vampire stories. In her latter years, she had become “obsessed” with vampires and vampire novels, reading and writing capsule reviews of some 300 (culminating in her aforementioned book), and how their popularity in different eras reflects (even if vampires can’t cast reflections) society. Summing up, he said, “her interests ranged far and wide, and any of these diverse interests will be the subject(s) of these readings.” He regretted that he (ironically) had forgotten to bring rosemary to pass around (“rosemary for remembrance”). “Blessed be,” he intoned.

TT-Head 2

Terence Taylor

With that, he turned emceeing duties over to the guest host and first reader, Terence Taylor, a familiar face at NYRSF readings, and an award-winning children’s television writer who has joked that “after a career of comforting young kids, [is] now equally dedicated to scaring their parents.”  His offering came from his work-back-in-progress Past Life, the conclusion of his trilogy “The Vampire Testaments,” which began with Bite Marks and continued with Blood Pressure. (Margot, he noted, had lauded the novels and was looking forward to the next volume; he regretted that he hadn’t completed the trilogy in time for her to have read it.)

In the selection that he read, vampire Turner has, after witnessing Germany’s horrors, become an unofficial agent for the OSS (the World War II predecessor of the CIA) and has trailed two Nazi agents back to America and, following an altercation with them on a train (they ejected him from it, which they should not have been able to do), turns up on the 1941 Hollywood doorstep of writer (and folklorist/anthropologist) Zora Neale Hurston on the night of October 31, seeking advice. (The Nazis’ plot, he let slip during the intermission, is rooted in magic – more than that I won’t give away – and they find common cause with the Klan; Taylor found following real-world connections fascinating.) The prospect of having the two (Zora and Turner) meet up again (she had been present the night that he turned) had inspired Taylor to go back to working on the third book. In an aside, he noted that he had listened to recordings of her and reported that he would be lecturing on Hurston and voodoo at the Museum of Morbid Anatomy in Brooklyn on February 2.

Taylor additionally read five pages (“that’s all you get for free”) from his story that ran in the anthology (edited by John Joseph Adams and Douglas Cohen) What the #@&% Is That? (the title is pronounced as “What the Gravlax?” – the symbols used in comics to indicate cursing have been dubbed “gravlax,” like the Scandinavian sushi). The story, “The Catch,” he said, turns from horror to sf, as a mad vivisectionist who cuts up couples (“catch” is as in “the catch of the day”) finds something alien in a victim.

During the intermission, a raffle was held for those who donated to the Series (admission is free, with a suggested donation of $7, which is very likely to be rising as the Series pays to rent the space and to treat its guests at the Café). The prizes were identical flash drives featuring Hour of the Wolf broadcasts with Freund and Adler. Taylor then introduced the evening’s second reader.

sabrina-vourvouliasSabrina Vourvoulias is the author of Ink, a parallel universe/near-future novel set in a fictional city and rural town in the U.S. that draws on her memories of Guatemala’s armed internal conflict and of the Latina/Latino experience in the United States (she is an American citizen by birth but grew up in Guatemala), and of stories that have appeared at Tor.com and in Strange Horizons, Crossed Genres and a number of anthologies (including The Best YA Speculative Fiction of 2015 and Latino/a Rising), as well as articles in various Pennsylvania periodicals and posts on her blog Following the Lede.

The piece that she read, “Flying With the Dead,” was the first speculative fiction story that she ever sold (it appeared in Crossed Genres), was about magic circles. (In another “magic circle,” she noted that the term “illegal immigrant,” which had been renamed “undocumented immigrant,” had, in the current political climate, sadly gone back to “illegal immigrant.”) In keeping with the evening’s theme, the story was set on the Day of the Dead and centered on an assimilated Latino (his feelings about his heritage are symbolized by a box from his late mother that he carts around but has never opened) who works for the ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and uses his background to help round up “illegal immigrants” (he’s “good at it”), a job which becomes complicated when he’s drawn to a Guatemalan girl. We were introduced to Día de Muertos customs and festivities (cemeteries become picnic grounds, “barrios of the dead,” food is left at graves and kids fly kites), and it is implied that the immigrants’ migration north reflects that of the Monarch butterfly and in turn the flight of the souls of the dead.

The traditional Jenna Felice Freebie Table of books and magazines also offered a variety of Hallowe’en candy. The audience of about 25-30 included Melissa C. Beckman, Richard Bowes, Rob Cameron, Amy Goldschlager, Lynn Cohen Koehler, Barbara Krasnoff, John Kwok and James Ryan.

Afterward, the readers and some audience members availed themselves of the Café’s menu.

NYRSF Readings Welcome Winter with Taylor and Headley

Parental advisory:  This report is brought to you by the letter “F.”

By Mark L. Blackman: On the frigid winter evening of Tuesday, January 5, 2016 (an exceptionally mild December had spoiled us), the New York Review of Science Fiction Readings Series kicked off the second half of its 25th anniversary season with Maria Dahvana Headley and Terence Taylor sharing their short fiction at the Series’ current venue, the Brooklyn Commons Café (in the wonderful Borough of Brooklyn).

In with the new, in with the old, as Jim Freund, producer/executive curator of the Series and host of the long-running live radio program on WBAI-FM, Hour of the Wolf (broadcast and streamed every Wednesday night/Thursday morning from 1:30-3:00 am) welcomed the audience, cautioning us that we were on camera and livestreaming (visit Livestream.com), so to be mindful of what we say and next to whom we’re sitting.  He thanked contributors (the event is free, with a suggested donation of $7), and reported that, alas, the Kickstarter campaign to fund the readings is at present a non-starter, but he still hopes to get one underway.  (Hmm, maybe he could blackmail the attendees over our shady associations.)  Next month’s readers, on 2 February, he announced, will be very familiar faces, Richard Bowes and Barbara Krasnoff.  Karen Heuler will be one of the readers on 1 March, and 5 April’s event will be the launch of Clockwork Phoenix 5, with Mike Allen guest-hosting.  Special events are also planned for May and June, respectively, a play by Andrea Hairston, with musical accompaniment, and a celebration of the 50th anniversary of Space and Time magazine, with Gordon Linzner, et al. Finally, he invited the audience to grab dinner during the intermission or after the readings at the Café, which has added hot items to its menu. (He suggested ordering early so that it would be ready.)

TT-Head 2With the evening’s first reader, Terence Taylor, unable to act in his usual role as the Series’ technical director, he and Freund swapped places, and Jim did the camera cuts.  (Video killed the radio star?)  Taylor is an award-winning children’s television writer who, “after a career of comforting young kids, [is] now equally dedicated to scaring their parents.”  He is the author of, among a number of horror stories (“literary carnage”), the Vampire Testament Trilogy, the second volume of which, Blood Pressure, he read from at a past NYRSF Reading.  The conclusion of his trilogy, Past Life, is “in process” and “not ready” for public reading (as he discovered when he tried at Readercon).  (For more on the books, see his website http://doyoubelieveinvampires.com/.)

Terence read two short pieces.  The first, “Sex Degrees of Separation,” was a modern take on Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death,” and appeared in the HIV-themed anthology With the Body.  (Appropriately, he was wearing Edgar Allan Poe socks, a Christmas gift, which he “limberly” displayed after his reading.)  A fictionalization of an evening out clubbing at a black gay club, the story is rooted in the disease’s trail (“Ever fuck a porn star?”) and impact (the main character is HIV-positive) on the community.

His second piece, “Star Fuckers, Inc.,” was a major (and welcome) change in mood.  Inspired by William Burroughs (of whom Taylor is a huge fan, as he discussed with an audience member during the intermission), the darkly comic work, well-received by the audience, was about time-abducted celebrity sex slaves, drugged and mind-wiped before being returned; here the stars are the later-tragic James Dean and Marilyn Monroe (still Norma Jean Baker).  (Terence was then mind-wiped and returned to the control booth.  Serves him right.)

A short break followed, during which a raffle was held for contributors.  The prizes were a copy of Taylor’s manuscript of “Star Fuckers, Inc.” (“signed with his special autograph pen”) and the audiobook (edited by Freund) of the John Joseph Adams-edited anthology Wastelands 2.

Maria Dahvana Headley

Maria Dahvana Headley

Maria Dahvana Headley is a New York Times-Bestselling author and editor, whose Nebula and Shirley Jackson Award-nominated short fiction has been anthologized in many years’ bests, and who, with Neil Gaiman, is the #1 New York Times-bestselling editor of the anthology Unnatural Creatures.  Her most recent works include the young adult fantasy novel Magonia, the dark fantasy/alternate history novel Queen of Kings, and the internationally bestselling memoir The Year of Yes.  Her offering of the night was from her novelette The Virgin Played Bass, about a troupe of roving musicians passing through war’s horrors and destruction, a reimagining of the fairy tale “The Town Musicians of Bremen”, and its Scottish version “The White Pet,” with a mix of “Puss in Boots” and the Gospels.  In the midst of Eastern European war (“after the War and before the War”), Bruno, a young accordionist hooks up with a talking (multilingual yet, though fond of a certain word beginning with “F”) and singing cat (yes, he caterwauls), the White Pet, and the duo and a growing band (three Marys for their miracle plays) wander through Russia, Moldova, Serbia, Croatia, Macedonia and Hungary toward Brementown (“Bremen’s where we’re always going, until there’s no Bremen to go to.”) and quest for fish soup.  (The nine lives trick comes in very handy for them.)  The story is running in the current issue of Uncanny, (#8) released earlier that day.

As traditional, the Jenna Felice Freebie Table offered giveaway books, along with refreshments (cheese, crackers and cookies).  Additionally, books by Taylor were for sale and autograph.  The cold-braving crowd of about 30 included Melissa C. Beckman, Richard Bowes, Amy Goldschlager (filling in as ticket-taker for Barbara Krasnoff, who was out at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas), Karen Heuler, John Kwok, James and Susan Ryan, and Max Schmid.  Afterward, people milled around, socialized and grabbed a bite.

Taylor and Headley Guest at NYRSF Readings 1/5

The New York Review of Science Fiction Readings 25th Anniversary Season launches into 2016 with Terence Taylor and Maria Dahvana Headley sharing their work on January 5. The location is The Commons Café at 388 Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn. Doors open 6:30 p.m. $7 suggested donation.

Terence Taylor. Photo by Jim Freund.

Terence Taylor. Photo by Jim Freund.

Terence Taylor is an award-winning children’s television writer whose work has appeared on PBS, Nickelodeon, and Disney, among many others. After a career of comforting young kids, he’s now equally dedicated to scaring their parents. His short horror stories have been published in all three “Dark Dreams” horror/suspense anthologies. His first novel, Bite Marks: A Vampire Testament, came out in September of 2009. The second book in the trilogy, Blood Pressure: A Vampire Testament, was released in 2010. After a hiatus to work on other writing and video projects he has returned to the conclusion of his trilogy – Past Life. Set in 2027, it takes his heroes, human and otherwise, to a final confrontation with the mad vampire Tom O’Bedlam to decide the fate of the world.

Maria Dahvana Headley.

Maria Dahvana Headley.

Maria Dahvana Headley is a New York Times-Bestselling author and editor, most recently of the young adult fantasy novel Magonia (HarperCollins), the dark fantasy/alt-history novel Queen of Kings (Dutton), and the internationally bestselling memoir The Year of Yes (Hyperion). With Neil Gaiman, she is the #1 New York Times-bestselling editor of the anthology Unnatural Creatures (HarperChildrens), benefitting 826DC. With Kat Howard, she is the author of the novella The End of the Sentence (Subterranean Press) – one of NPR’s Best Books of 2014. Her Nebula and Shirley Jackson Award-nominated short fiction has been anthologized in many years bests.

Jim Freund is Producer and Executive Curator of The New York Review of Science Fiction Readings.  He has been involved in producing radio programs of and about literary sf/f since 1967.  His long-running live radio program, Hour of the Wolf, broadcasts and streams every Wednesday night/Thursday morning from 1:30-3:00 AM.  (Check the Hour of the Wolf group on Facebook for details.)

The full press release follows the jump.

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