The Annual Queer Theory Lecture in honor of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick

Thursday, April 4, 2019
by: Maggie McDowell, PhD Candidate, Dept. of English, Duke University
Samuel Delany

BIRTHDAY AND CONVERSATION WITH SAMUEL R. DELANY

During this year’s Annual Queer Theory Lecture in Honor of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Samuel R. Delany generously shared his birthday with a full house. Before “Chip” Delany and Professor Peter Sigal took to the stage, Professor Gabriel Rosenberg reminded those assembled that the event honors Sedgwick’s “incisive and provocative” contribution to queer theory. Chip and Dr. Sigal’s conversation, fluidly moving from a retrospective analysis of Times Square Red, Times Square Blue, to nail biting, to a frank assessment of contemporary politics, reminded us of the extent to which Delany’s literary and academic work, and his lived experience, are in conversation with and a provocation to Sedgwick’s initial contributions to the field.

Professor Sigal noted the importance of inviting Delany given recent tendencies in queer theory to move beyond explicitly sexual discourse. Delany’s life and work bring us back to the heart of the questions the field initially asked. His readers will know that Delany’s fiction and nonfiction alike foreground queer sex as a political act. Specifically, Times Square Red, Times Square Blue centralizes open discussion of those practices that “the powers that be” dismiss as criminal or dangerous. Speaking more openly about sex, to his mind, is an important component to our education in understanding ourselves and each other better. This conviction, in addition to decades of lived experience, leads him to argue that queer and public sex is the condition of possibility for people who would otherwise have remained strangers to form intimacies and build communities for a better future.

If Chip Delany had one message for the assembled crowd that night, it was an invitation to continue his legacy of inclusive community-building, to watch out for and to care for each other. In an engaged Q&A session, the audience challenged him on the positivity he seems to espouse, given that he has lived through great loss and prejudice, and given the time he admits to spending on YouTube these days watching analyses of the precarity of our current political moment. By way of response, he pointed to his fiction’s increasing preoccupation with the very near future. For instance, his 2012 novel Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders features characters who are, to his mind, “real heroes,” not because they transcend their situation or their humanity, but because they endure. The real heroism of these characters, he said, is that they feed the people around them.

 Delany’s warmth extends from his fiction to his interactions with his readers. GSF brought out a birthday cake at the end of the night in honor of his 77th birthday. Chip blew out his candles in one breath, and then shared his wish with the crowd: “I wish that everyone here gets to live out the rest of their lives happily.”  

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