In Search of Silence: The Journals of Samuel R. Delany, Volume I, 1957-1969

In Search of Silence: The Journals of Samuel R. Delany, Volume I, 1957-1969


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For fifty years Samuel Delany has cultivated a special relationship with language in works of fiction, criticism, and memoir that have garnered critical praise and legions of fans. The present volume –; the first in a series –; reveals a new dimension of his genius. In Search of Silence presents over a decade's worth of Delany's private journals, commencing in 1957 when he was still a student at the Bronx High School of Science, and ending in 1969 when he was living in San Francisco and on the verge of reconceiving the novel that would become Dhalgren.

In these pages, Delany muses on the writing of the stories that will establish him as a science fiction wunderkind, the early years of his marriage to the poet Marilyn Hacker, performances as a singer-songwriter during the heyday of the American folk revival, travels in Europe, experiences in a New York City commune, and much more –; and crosses paths with artists working in many genres, including poets such as Robert Frost, W. H. Auden, and Marie Ponsot, and science fiction writers such as Arthur C. Clarke, Michael Moorcock, Roger Zelazny, and Joanna Russ. Delany scholar Kenneth R. James presents the journal entries alongside generous samplings of story outlines, poetry, fragments of novels and essays that have never seen publication, and more; James also provides biographical synopses and an extensive set of endnotes to supply contextual information and connect journal material to Delany's published work.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780819570895
Publisher: Wesleyan University Press
Publication date: 02/07/2017
Series: Journals of Samuel R. Delany Series
Pages: 720
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 9.40(h) x 2.00(d)

About the Author

SAMUEL R. DELANY is an award-winning author of numerous works of fiction and nonfiction, most recently Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders. He lives in New York City. KENNETH R. JAMES is a noted Delany scholar and author of the introductions to Longer Views and 1984. He lives in Cushing, Maine.

Read an Excerpt


Bronx Science and Other New York Scenes

As of the first entry of Notebook 1, Samuel Delany — born April 1, 1942 — is a fifteen-year-old sophomore at the Bronx High School of Science. Most of the young people Delany mentions in this and the entries to follow are either fellow students at Science or, after Notebook 1, part of Marilyn Hacker's social circle at NYU.

With the exception of an extended sequence in Notebook 4, most of the private journal entries from this period are brief and fragmentary. However, the notebooks in which the entries appear are far from empty; many of their pages hold class notes and homework assignments, with most of the remainder devoted to drafts of stories, poems, play scripts, and more. By the time of his writing of the first entry of Notebook 1, Delany had already completed two novels, Lost Stars and Scavengers — the first of which he had written while still at the Dalton School — and was working on a third, Those Spared by Fire. By Notebook 3 he had moved on to his fourth, Cycle for Toby.

As various entries indicate, during this period Delany contributed to his school's literary magazine, Dynamo, and participated in the Hunter College Dramatic Program for Young People. His fiction and nonfiction had already begun receiving significant recognition: in Notebook 4 Delany mentions receiving prizes from the nationwide Scholastic Writers Awards for the short story "The Gravedigger" and the essay "Portrait of the Artist as Six Characters in Search of Tea and Sympathy."

Although the entries from this period present a picture of a talented and ambitious young artist, they also hint at a teenager in flux and responding to a number of pressures. In an autobiographical fragment in Notebook 4, Delany states that while his strengths are in the arts, his professional interests are still "diversified" and that he is "fascinated" bynuclear physics. In a private entry in the same notebook, he ponders an account he had written in the notebook of a friend of Hacker's describing a cruising experience. And in the closing entry from this period, Delany mentions staying with friends for several days: a hint of the uneasy atmosphere at home.

The first three of the four entries from Notebook 1 are written on pages that have come loose from their spiral binding; see appendixes 1 and 2 for a fuller discussion of these pages. Notebooks 3 and 4 contain the first of the marginal comments by Hacker, indicated in bold type.


to every thing. That's it: my writing — at times — captures the intangible. Good for me! (Conceited bastard that you are!) And it is almost always when I write about Ellen! I must stop being so analytical when I read; and be more so when I write. I have lost more effect from the greatest works of literature than anybody in the world! — I bet. That's it! I'm too chemical. I know too much about what is being done with the words and themes. Although I can whip the words into place myself; I can see the scars on the backs of the words whipped by other writers. That analytical frame of mind is hell. I write creatively as though I were writing a math textbook, and damn it, it comes out just as good. I know what humor is, I know what suspense is. Someday I will know what tragedy is. I do not want to know; then I will be static completely. The hell of it is; when I don't understand the construction, I don't get the effect; or rather, I block out the effect. Oddly, in my contemporaries this is not true; I can read their writing and achieve the effect and not be so scathingly analytical. I hope it continues.

* * *


* * *

Dickens George [Eliot] — The Mill on the Floss Hawthorne Thackeray Victor Hugo — Les Misérables Cooper Melville

Try to think up a situation involving kids. What types of characters: Ellen; a shy girl. Reserved: Vinni; Shy as hell. Tito; he is an all around type of person. Other; confused. Vivian, all around. Phyllis is out & out glamour girl type. Ruben; he will do whatever is demanded of him. Paul is an inhibited younger brother type. Whom should I pair Ellen up with? Not Paul. Who's taller then Ellen? Joe! Not for Ellen. Tito! That's who! All right. How? Vinni & Butch. Ruben with Vivian. What about Mildred? Mildred is indispensable as a character. Analyze Mildred: Nice. Shy. Likes to pretend. No! That is not right for Ellen. Characters: A Dreamer! That's right, a crazy mixed up kid. That is Ellen. Punchinello! That's Butch. But that's cruel. So what. Forget about the actors. That's hard. Let's see. I like the dreamer. And I like Ellen in the C.M.K. role. What about the boys. I like the juvenile delinquent kick. What to do with it. Tito is the hero type, he is more dynamic then Vinni. Vinni is tragic type. Vinni, he can be the juvenile delinquent with his friend. Tito wants to grow up. Growing up. There is a conflict, man — or boy, against society. What will be the symbol for adulthood. The dreamer, her symbol is the tree. The tree! That's it. It's all falling into place. Good. Tito and Mildred are brother & sister. The tree — I see her throwing herself at the tree. Ellen makes a play for him. Vinni is sort of in love with Ellen. Vinni kills Paul. Oh, that's fun. Butch, what & where is she? She wants to help Mildred. What is her problem. Vinni! That's her problem. Vinni & Tito are friends. (What about Other? Forget about him!) So far so good. What to do about Paul. I don't know! Where do we stick him in. I have this feeling we should start off with Paul. No. Yes, I don't know. I have to get a first scene. How I like the back alley. All right. The back alley. What do we do with it? I've got to get — I've got it. Mildred & Paul. Mildred to see the tree. And Paul teases her. Then Tito to chase Paul away with Vinni. Mildred —

Write it, stupid. Don't just talk about it. Write it out!


Journal of 5 Minutes in Park.

I feel a discouraging lack of creativity at the present.

Music — when poems become things that are forced and can not sing.

Marilyn is sitting beside me reading my manuscripts. The creativity — we are in the park — is coming back.

This is one of those shaded bowers that grace good old Central. There is shade dappling among the sun spots on the white paper, and a leaf has fallen onto Marilyn's lap where she has picked it up and fingers it as she reads with her pretension of enrapture. The cars sound behind me on a highway. There are no birds here.

I just stopped to title these. Marilyn has turned another page; a boy passed and has turned off the path 20 feet away to stare at the horses on the bridle path. Now he has gone away.

Poetic Dialogue

— José, what is a word ending in "ry" that is the opposite of "mandatory."

— Are you writing creative material?

— Yes.

— Then I can't tell you. You are a craftsman incompetent in your field. You are writing prose?

— Yes. José, I am a craftsman who is asking another to lend me one of his tools momentarily, for one of mine has dulled. Oh José, I know the word, I just can't think of it.

— If you were writing poetry, I could tell you, but prose is out of my domain; you have not justified yourself in that. Poetry is music and I could easily tell you upon what line a certain note which you had sung, must fall. But that is poetry and poetry (as I said) is music.

— Then tell me the word, José, prose is poetry.


* * *

Experiment in Alexandrine

The chest I saw put out.

Out the chest now cast off — she did hang them high up. So much for that.

* * *

When one loses $20, one gets such a horribly mortal feeling — I mean like one could die. And saying that, doesn't make me feel a damn bit better.

* * *

If my collected works ever be published Let them be called "Womb of Shadows"

* * *

— Bruitto half drowsily nuzzles his face in Cain's naked groin; Cain's fingers play Bruitto's hair in his sleep, the silent sleeping hand upon Bruitto's hair and head which moves occasionally under its burden across pulsing genitals.

He placed his hands on her cheeks and pulled her down, sliding his hands down her shoulders and then under her arms, so that his thumbs played across her breasts and finally completely covering them and moving together beneath her blouse which opened and then she was shrugging out of it and the nipples beneath his fingers, pulling her down, until she was full upon his own naked chest and his hands going into her skirt caressing softly and then he stretched his hands apart tightening his shoulders so that the snaps [tore] and he moved around her whole pelvic area in lingering frantic rhythm at her cunt and then he was twisting until he had worked himself naked and home and in that struggle was born that rhythm with which he now poured himself into her, her body beneath his own his face happy against her neck, Bruitto lay —

Notebook 7 — 1959

[March–April 1959]

Why Are there No fragments Of
  My soul
  In this
  Record Of Disintegration
  — April 19, '59

* * *


Brown bodies Slender, heads whirl and crowns of black
  fly loose
  Brown pupils in yellow ivory
  Slender faces open
"Chinga tu madre —"
  Hands flash against each other in High contrapuntal laughter comes the answer
"Chinga te —"
Running, they separate, and one,
Sneakers carry him in a wide arc across the city asphalt

* * *

To a woman getting on the subway with a pot containing three tall lilies who took a seat behind another woman — who had her back to me so I couldn't see her head.

I want to pen a terse and
  Turgid rhyme To insulate this thing from World and time;
But how may I hope to escape A woman with 3 heads
  Who're trumpet shaped.

* * *


I consider it one of life's great joys that boys like girls and girls like boys but it sometimes happens as the old globe whirls that boys like boys and girls like girls.

Thus we are faced with the reality of homosexuality which causes lots of righteous anger and very bad business for Margaret Sanger.

Now Sodomy falls into three different classes There're sodomists, inverts, and pederasts,
But as Paul Verlaine said one fine night I'm not a Sodomist, man. I'm a Sodomite.

Now some folks who make up the nomenclature Say one kind's sin and the other kind's nature,
But I can't see why it's a sin Because of what entrance you go in
(As long as it isn't the fire exit.)

There are some folks under the impression that Sodomy's just an ethics session:
to you I say who thus surmise Just open your mouth and close your eyes.

You'll see that the moment often starts in urban life or in the Arts And that is why in this fair city The girls are so handsome and the boys so pretty.

On this theme the movies have been just a mite slow;
Said the censors, "Perversion just won't go."
But up we pop like hands from gloves With The Third Sex, and Three Strange Loves.

I saw a man dressed in rather bad taste With Revlon and Avon all over his face Said he, "Son you may not like the way I dress,
But I'm a member of the S.O.S.
  Sons of Sodom."

I mean it rather sets you back to hear:

Oh, George, I really do love you When your voice goes up an octave or two,
And you walk with such grace and refinement,
With your hip swing ten inches out of alignment.

Now John likes Jane and Jane likes Jim And Jim likes someone who doesn't like him,
And it's easy to see how this can annoy Since the one Jim likes is a boy
(And so is Jane for that matter).

In France the movement took the lead With Marcel Proust and André Gide And the loving couple we all know As Paul Verlaine and A. Rimbaud.

Gide's pleasantly pederastic essence Was in his love for adolescence And it was said — and it be truth He loved that old sweet bird of youth.
(Even went to bed with the damn thing)

Proust, dabbling with more subtlety Perverted even Sodomy And it was said at certain scenes
'twas Albert and not Albertine
(that the man loved).
(Did I say man?)

Simone de Beauvoir had her fun till they kicked her out of the Sorbonne for starting little innovations in student-faculty relations.

Something I've noticed from all of these the eternal triangle's gone isosceles two men at the base all setting up home Some girl at the vertex all alone.

No matter what it's all about they always kick the odd one out But the question — when you get it down to old home Sod —
is just who is what, and what is odd.

My story's over; I've no more to tell So I'll bid my love a fond farewell So if I want to win that Nobel Prize I guess I'll have to transvestize —
(Besides, he's a boy and too flat chested anyway.)

* * *

I know a [centered] man
  Whom Jove begot Before remorse began
  And lust forgot.

So let your vaulted thunders roar
  In caverns deep I have no hiding but my circled soul
  And that asleep.

NOTEBOOK 6 — 1959

[April 1959]

This is the problem: two ethical systems clash. The stronger one wins out.

* * *

H.P. continued from Vol. I

hand of which whisked up and down the stem of his cock. The nigger, with his own hand, grabbed his own penis and his black hand flew up and down like a piston. Erect, the prick was huge, like [a] tree standing out between his spread legs, black and tall, curving smoothly from the crinkly black bush. The great low hanging black balls swung back and forth as the ebony hand pumped, the fingers flying in furious ecstasy. The nail bitten fingers that closed about Larry's stiff prick kept the same rhythm. The black sex scepter would have taken both Larry's and Bastos's hand to cover. Larry reached out and grappled the aching bitch stick, it was like caressing a hot water pipe. Basto reached around with both hands and lent his power. The four hands, like a single enclosing column, swept rhythmically up and down the ebon obelisk. There was still six thick inches of night standing beyond their fingers.

Larry leaned over and put his mouth around the vibrating head of the black flower, [reaching] his warm wet tongue over & beneath the salty foreskin. The three of them were in ecstasy. They were straining so hard — the black body about to explode with energy — that he collapsed in the hay, still beating his black meat. Larry saw the shit eater had arisen. The gigantic white man pulled apart his fly and the crazy pinnacle jutted forth. The shit eater stepped to the ground. The nigger's head leaped forward and thick lips closed over his juicy cock. Larry felt something wet between his buttocks. The S.E. tongued violently Larry's rectum. The shit eater grabbed Larry's free hand, and Larry tumbled to stub nailed fingers, in themselves like vast phalli. The shit eater had jammed his other hand into Basto's ass. Now the combined energy as they tongued, fingered, and assed each other beat like a huge sea among them.

* * *

[inscription on inner back cover of notebook:] Return this to Bruno Callabro


April 28, 1959

Illuminations in the night ululant — the small voices in the back of the brain; my mind crawls across the floor. "Step on it quickly." The ice is black. When the image crashes on the tiles; shattering, isn't it? It is inebriated — the drunken babbling of the soft voices pierces up behind the surface of existence. When I wonder what they say, they lisp out, inaudible.

Where am I headed for; the surface of things about me is dark and love is hideous against my flesh — and love is hideous.

I'm writing a letter now:

Don't you remember, Ellen, when we cut down the green of fresh grass with our laughter; you had red hair and I could never touch you — and there were three of us,Ruben and I and you; the corridors of the Metropolitan Museum are dark and the walls, where they are not plastered with artifacts, are black slabs of ice. I pressed my face against the marble, and I said —

Oh god how I would love a conversation; I want to say what we said; I want to tell you on paper. The futility of mere syllables; and anyway, it would be meaningless, for Ruben first came in and then he put his hand up and rubbed his mouth, watching; you stood with your red hair in the black hall, and we were silent for a while.

Then we went on among the tombs.

* * *

April 29,

Isn't that a nice date?


M — Where the hell is he?

J — He's taking a shit for himself, which he'll write in his notebook when he gets back. (half hour later)

M — Either constipation or diarrhea. I don't know which one.

J — You can look in his notebook tomorrow and find out.

It's getting colder. I can't lie down and absorb the warm light anymore. The rock has made a ruin of my stockings. Judy asks me how long you've been gone. She is making strange hieroglyphs in her notebook. I say about half an hour. She says it's not as long as that. She lies down and I hold the book so she cannot see it. I'll see it anyway. He must have gotten lost she says, turning over. He got lost.


Excerpted from "In Search of Silence, Volume 1, 1957–1969"
by .
Copyright © 2017 Samuel R. Delany.
Excerpted by permission of Wesleyan University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Notebook 1 –; January-February 1958
Notebook 3 –; January 1959
Notebook 7 –; 1959 [March-April 1959]
Notebook 6 –; 1959 [April 1959]
Notebook 4 –; April-May 1959
Notebook 5 –; 1959 [Summer-Autumn 1959]
Notebook 2 –; January 1959 [January-February 1960]
Notebook 8 –; March 1960
Notebook 11 –; Spring 1960 [Spring-Summer 1960]
Notebook 12 –; Inclusive to July 1960
Notebook 13 –; September 1960
Notebook 14 –; Autumn 1960
Notebook 9 –; Winter 1960
Notebook 10 –; Spring 1960 [Spring 1961]
Notebook 16 –; Spring, Summer 1961
Notebook 17 –; Summer 1961
Notebook 18 –; August 1961
Notebook 15 –; September-October 1961 [October 1960 / September-October 1961]
Notebook 19 –; November 1961-June 1962
Notebook 21 –; Spring 1962 [January 1962]
Notebook 20 –; Spring 1962 [March 1962]
Notebook 22 –; Summer 1962
Notebook 23 –; November 1962 [October-November 1962]
Notebook 25 –; Inclusive through March 1963 [Autumn 1962-Spring 1963]
Notebook 24 –; Inclusive to January-February 1963
Notebook 75 –; [Spring-Summer 1963]
Notebook 68 –; [October 1963]
Notebook 71 –; [Winter 1963]
Notebook 92 –; [Spring 1964]
Notebook 26 –; June-July 1964
Notebook 27 –; August 15, 1964
Notebook 28 –; September 1964-January 1965
Notebook 87 –; [Early Spring 1965]
Notebook 82 –; [Summer 1964-Spring 1965]
Notebook 81 –; [Late Spring 1965]
Notebook 29 –; June-July 1965
Notebook 67 –; [Autumn 1965-Summer 1966]
Notebook 96 –; [Autumn 1965]
Notebook 31 –; March 1966 [February-March 1966]
Notebook 30 –; December 1965 [Spring 1966]
Notebook 80 –; [Spring 1966]
Notebook 91 –; [Fall 1966]
Notebook 83 –; [December 1966-January 1967]
Notebook 84 –; [February-April 1967]
Notebook 76 –; [Spring-Summer 1967]
Notebook 69 –; [Summer 1967]
Notebook 86 –; [Summer 1967]
Notebook 32 –; July-October 1967
Notebook 88 –; [Autumn 1967]
Notebook 33 –; December 1967 [December 1967-January 1968]
Notebook 35 –;1968 [Early Spring 1968]
Notebook 77 –; [Early Spring 1968]
Notebook 85 –; [Spring-Summer 1968]
Notebook 90 –; [Summer 1968]
Notebook 78 –; [Summer-Autumn 1968]
Notebook 34 –; August 1968 [August-September 1968]
Notebook 79 –; [Winter 1968]
Notebook 36 –; January-February 1969
Notebook 37 –; April 1969 [February-April 1969]
Appendix 1 –; Notebook 89 [Winter 1957-January 1958]
Appendix 2 –; Notebook 1 –; January-February 1958
Appendix 3 –; Three Short Works from 1959-60

What People are Saying About This

Junot Díaz

“Mesmerizing . . . a true portrait of an artist as a young Black man . . . already visible in these pages are the wit, sensitivity, penetration, playfulness and the incandescent intelligence that will characterize Delany and his extraordinary work.”

From the Publisher

"Mesmerizing . . . a true portrait of an artist as a young Black man . . . already visible in these pages are the wit, sensitivity, penetration, playfulness and the incandescent intelligence that will characterize Delany and his extraordinary work." —Junot Díaz, author of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

"This is a tremendously significant and vital addition to the oeuvre of Samuel Delany; it clarifies questions not only of the writer's process, but also his development—to see, in his juvenilia, traces that take full form in his novels—is literally breathtaking." —Matthew Cheney, author of Blood: Stories

Matthew Cheney

“This is a tremendously significant and vital addition to the oeuvre of Samuel Delany; it clarifies questions not only of the writer’s process, but also his development—to see, in his juvenilia, traces that take full form in his novels—is literally breathtaking.”

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