I don't remember how I first met Samuel R. Delany, the science fiction writer known as Chip to his friends. I think my parents had something to do with it. I know I proselytized endlessly to them about Chip and other writers of SF's New Wave, which was then at its cusp. And my parents knew another SF writer, Tom Disch (though again, I have no idea how), so I suspect it was through Tom's auspices that Chip came over for dinner one evening. From that evening forward for the next three years until I moved to Los Angeles, I did everything I could to be at Chip's side, or in his ear via the phone, as much of the time as possible. I was 14 years old and as thick as a plank, and it is a testimony to Chip's overflowing generosity of spirit that he tolerated me, because good lord I must have been an annoying little twerp.
For the past few months I've been reading Chip's collection of essays, interviews and letters, On Writing -- slowly, slowly, to prolong the experience as much as possible -- as of course it's had me thinking about those three years, during which Chip and I...
Shot a movie.
Saw a revival of Busby Berkeley's "The Gang's All Here."
Attended a couple of Clarion Workshops.
Saw Terry Riley perform "A Rainbow in Curved Air" live.
Saw Sam Peckinpah's "Straw Dogs" one-and-a-half times. (We came in late and saw the last 40 minutes -- the nerve-wracking siege of the farmhouse; as the lights came up we were both clutching the arms of our seats, and Chip said, "Gee, I hope the first part of the movie is as good!")
Spent a lot of time talking.
(I also think I dragged him to see the musical "Follies," then in its original Broadway run, but that could be a trick of memory -- I know I wanted him to see it.)
From 1969 to 1972 I felt as though any day that did not have some form of interaction with Chip was a day wasted. When asked if I had a mentor, I always point to Chip. He is a great teacher and I learned more about writing from him than any other human being; but I think it was really his friendship and his far-ranging interests, that affected me so deeply at a time in my life when I was absorbing influences like a sponge. Whatever lack of shallowness I can lay claim to, I owe to Chip. Reading "On Writing" 37 years after those experiences, it amazes me how much there still is to learn from him.