The title of next week’s Northwestern University conference on black science fiction, “The Politics of the Paraliterary,” may say something about SF’s dubious rep in academe. Para? As in “paramilitary” or “paranormal?” It’s taken from the title for Samuel R. Delany’s 2000 collection of literary criticism, but his work has never really needed any qualifier. The 62-year-old Harlem-born novelist, essayist, and current English professor at SUNY Buffalo–himself qualified too often as the gay black SF writer–has for decades kept the genre honest with his probing presence. The author of Dhalgren, Neveryona, The Einstein Intersection, and many others, he’s lived long enough to see his many award-winning novels brought back into print and to watch identity politics go in and out of fashion. His best-known work is not directly political–he sells his own nimble experimentalism as simply efficient and accurate representations of thought and culture in hypothetical worlds–but he’s perennially conscious of his position on the margins. Working in a field of literature where otherness is prime grist for the artist’s mill and the most exotic realms of the imagination are often rendered with nuts-and-bolts realism, it’s jarring to consider occasions like the one Delany recounts in his 1999 essay “Racism and Science Fiction,” when a publisher rejected his manuscript on the grounds that the white SF-reading public was more able and willing to identify with little green men from space than regular-size black ones from Earth. Delany will deliver this year’s Leon Forrest Lecture on Thursday, April 15, at 4:30 PM in Abbott Auditorium, Pancoe-Evanston Northwestern Healthcare Life Sciences Pavilion, 2200 Campus Drive in Evanston, 847-467-5122.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Beckett Logan.