The Motion of Light in Water

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The Motion of Light in Water
Motion of lght in water.jpg
Dust-jacket from the first edition
AuthorSamuel R. Delany
CountryUnited States
PublisherArbor House
Publication date
Media typePrint (Hardcover)(Paperback)

The Motion of Light in Water: Sex and Science Fiction Writing in the East Village, is the autobiography of the science fiction author Samuel R. Delany in which he recounts his experiences growing up as a gay African American man, as well as some of his time in an interracial and open marriage with Marilyn Hacker. It describes encounters with Albert Einstein, Bob Dylan, Stokely Carmichael and Stormé DeLarverie, a dinner with W. H. Auden, and a phone call to James Baldwin.

Among many cultural events of the decade that he witnessed, Delany recounts his attendance at the first New York City performance of the artist Allan Kaprow's 18 Happenings in 6 Parts, the 1959 performance piece that, for many, marked the end of modernism and the beginning of postmodernism.[1] In section 17.4 of the University of Minnesota Press edition, he describes the event and its venue, and speculates on its artistic significance.[2] The introduction puts an emphasis on the idea of the unreliable narrator; Delany's accounts often contrast his life as it "felt" to ways in which it actually occurred.



Hazel Carby called it one of two contemporary autobiographies that are "absolutely central to any consideration of black manhood" (the other being that of Miles Davis).[4]

In the chapter, "The Future Is in the Present" of the book Cruising Utopia by José Esteban Munoz, Delany's The Motion of Light in the Water serves to explain how the future, as a form of utopia, can be "glimpsed" in the present through what Delany employed as "the massed bodies" of sexual dissidence.[5]

Masha Gessen in O, The Oprah Magazine selected this title as a pick for the "Best LGBTQ Books of All Time", describing it as "a textbook in observing the self, thinking about sex and love, and the best writing manual I know".[6]

Publication history[edit]

1988 Arbor House ISBN 0877959471 302 pages First edition
1989 Plume ISBN 0452262321 302 pages Paperback
1993 Richard Kasak ISBN 1563331330 520 pages "The first unexpurgated American edition"[7]
2004 University of Minnesota Press ISBN 0816645248 584 pages
2004 InsightOut Books ISBN 0965903753 572 pages
2014 Open Road Media Kindle edition

The first edition is subtitled "1957–1965", the revised 1993 edition is subtitled "1960–1965".


  1. ^ "Many times now Kaprow's piece (today we would call it 'performance art') has been cited by art historians as the (equally arbitrary) transition between the modern and the postmodern in cultural developments" (Delany, Samuel R. (1988), The Motion of Light in Water (1st ed.), New York: Arbor House, p. 110, ISBN 0877959471).
  2. ^ Brown, Charles N.; William G. Contento. "The Locus Index to Science Fiction (1984-1998)". Retrieved 2008-01-04.
  3. ^ Yarrow, Andrew L. (September 4, 1989). "Sci-Fi Fans Meet to Ponder Genre's Present". The New York Times. Retrieved March 30, 2010.
  4. ^ Hazel V. Carby (2009). Race Men. Harvard University Press. p. 135. ISBN 978-0674029194.
  5. ^ Muñoz, José Esteban (2009). Cruising Utopia The Then and There of Queer Futurity. New York University Press. p. 52.
  6. ^ Hart, Michelle (4 June 2019). "50 Queer Authors Share Their All-Time Favorite LGBTQ Books". Oprah Magazine.
  7. ^ Delany, Samuel R. (1993). The Motion of Light in Water. Richard Kasak. p. back cover.

External links[edit]