Bread & Wine: An Erotic Tale of New York By Samuel R. Delany and Mia Wolff (Fantagraphic Books, 2013)

Continuing reading of short works by Samuel R. Delany, last night an autobiographical graphic novel recounting/imaging/ evoking Delany’s coming together with his life partner of more than 40 years, Dennis. Samuel (nicknamed Chips here) meets Dennis when he buys a book off him but realises he’s forgotten his money. Dennis gives him the book and asks him to bring the money when he can, which Chips does. The drama and difficulty, both in the situation and in its recounting, is that Dennis has been homeless for six years. As Chips and Dennis continue to meet on the street and feelings develop, Chips begins to ask friends if it’s wise to pursue this. I would have said no, but I suppose his friends are more open than I, encourage the affair and everything turns out alright, in spite of economic, social, and racial inequalities here told in their fullness but with great delicacy. The novel is a testament to Delany’s openness to love where one finds it and his sensitivity to the mental and economic precarity of others – an underlining of dignity and humanity – an ability to hear and understand what others feel even as they only half express it themselves. Delany’s text is interspersed with quotes from Hölderin’s BREAD & WINE, that sometimes underline, sometimes counterpoint. A life lived with courage, a courage also necessary to recount it, particularly in this form. Mia Wolff’s illustrations are an integral part of this storytelling, not only in the drawings themselves but in how they are composed throughout the book.

Neil Gaiman says, ‘it’s filthy and earthy and beautiful, like an orchid in a gutter; it tells you more than you wanted to know and makes you glad it did’. Couldn’t say it better myself.

José Arroyo

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