James Dickey

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
James Dickey
James Dickey.jpg
Born James Lafayette Dickey
(1923-02-02)February 2, 1923
Atlanta, Georgia
Died January 19, 1997(1997-01-19) (aged 73)
Columbia, South Carolina, US
Occupation Poet, novelist, critic, lecturer
Nationality American
Period Contemporary literature

James Lafayette Dickey (February 2, 1923 – January 19, 1997) was an American poet and novelist.[1] He was appointed the eighteenth United States Poet Laureate in 1966.[2] He also received the Order of the South award. Dickey was also a novelist, known for Deliverance (1970) which was adapted into an acclaimed film of the same name.


Early years[edit]

James Dickey was born to lawyer Eugene Dickey and Maibelle Swift in Atlanta, Georgia, where he attended North Fulton High School in Atlanta's Buckhead neighborhood. In 1942 he enrolled at Clemson Agricultural College of South Carolina and played on the football team as a tailback. After one semester, he left school to enlist in the Army Air Corps. Dickey served with the U.S. Army Air Forces as a radar operator in a night fighter squadron during the Second World War, and in the U.S. Air Force during the Korean War. Between the wars, he attended Vanderbilt University, graduating with degrees in English and philosophy, as well as minoring in astronomy. He also taught at the University of Florida and the University of South Carolina.


From 1950 to 1954, Dickey taught at Rice University (then Rice Institute) in Houston. While teaching freshman composition at Rice, Dickey returned for a two-year air force stint in Korea, then went back to teaching.[3] He then worked for several years in advertising, most notably writing copy and helping direct creative work on the Coca-Cola and Lay's Potato Chips campaign. He once said he embarked on his advertising career in order to "make some bucks." Dickey also said "I was selling my soul to the devil all day... and trying to buy it back at night." He was ultimately fired for shirking his work responsibilities.[4]

He returned to poetry in 1960, and his first book, Into the Stone and Other Poems, was published in 1960. Drowning with Others was published in 1962, which led to a Guggenheim Fellowship (Norton Anthology, The Literature of the American South). Buckdancer's Choice (1965) earned him a National Book Award for Poetry.[5] Among his better-known poems are "The Performance", "Cherrylog Road", "The Firebombing", "May Day Sermon", "Falling", and "For The Last Wolverine."

After being named a poetry consultant for the Library of Congress, he published his first volume of collected poems, Poems 1957-1967 in 1967. This publishing may represent Dickey's best work. He subsequently accepted a position of Professor of English and writer-in-residence at the University of South Carolina at Columbia.

His popularity exploded after the film version of his novel Deliverance was released in 1972. Dickey had a cameo in the film as a sheriff.

The poet was invited to read his poem "The Strength of Fields" at President Jimmy Carter's inauguration in 1977.

Personal life[edit]

In November 1948 he married Maxine Syerson, and three years later they had their first son, Christopher; a second son, Kevin, was born in 1958. Two months after Maxine died in 1976, Dickey married Deborah Dodson. Their daughter, Bronwen, was born in 1981. Christopher is a novelist and journalist, lately providing coverage from the Middle East for Newsweek. In 1998, Christopher wrote a book about his father and Christopher's own sometimes troubled relationship with him, titled Summer of Deliverance. Kevin is a radiologist and lives in New England. Bronwen is a writer. Her first book, Pit Bull: The Battle Over an American Icon, was published in 2016.[6]


James Dickey died on January 19, 1997, six days after his last class at the University of South Carolina, where from 1968 he taught as poet-in-residence. Dickey spent his last years in and out of hospitals, afflicted first with jaundice and later fibrosis of the lungs.


  • Into the Stone and Other Poems (1960)
  • Drowning with Others (1962)
  • Two Poems of the Air(1964)
  • Helmets (1964)
  • Buckdancer's Choice: Poems (1965) —winner of the National Book Award[5]
  • Poems 1957-67 (1967)
  • The Achievement of James Dickey: A Comprehensive Selection of His Poems (1968)
  • The Eye-Beaters, Blood, Victory, Madness, Buckhead and Mercy (1970)
  • Deliverance (1970)
  • Exchanges (1971)
  • For the Death of Vince Lombardi (1971)
  • Jericho: The South Beheld (1974) (with Hubert Shuptrine)
  • The Zodiac (1976)
  • Veteran Birth: The Gadfly Poems 1947-49 (1978)
  • In Pursuit of the Grey Soul (1978) (illustrated prose)
  • Head-Deep in Strange Sounds: Free-Flight Improvisations from the unEnglish (1979)
  • The Strength of Fields (1979)
  • Falling, May Day Sermon, and Other Poems (1981)
  • The Early Motion (1981)
  • Puella (1982)
  • Värmland (1982)
  • False Youth: Four Seasons (1983)
  • For a Time and Place (1983)
  • Intervisions (1983)
  • The Central Motion: Poems 1968-79 (1983)
  • Bronwen, The Traw, and the Shape-Shifter: A Poem in Four Parts (1986)
  • Alnilam (1987)
  • The Eagle's Mile (1990)
  • The Whole Motion: Collected Poems 1949-92 (1992)
  • Float Like a Butterfly, Sting Like the Bee
  • To The White Sea (1993)




  1. ^ New York Times
  2. ^ "Poet Laureate Timeline: 1961-1970". Library of Congress. 2008. Retrieved 2008-12-19. 
  3. ^ Norton Anthology, The Literature of the American South, p. 809
  4. ^ Currey, Mason (2 May 2013). "Keep Your Day Job". Slate. 
  5. ^ a b "National Book Awards – 1966". National Book Foundation. Retrieved 2012-02-26.
    (With essay by Patrick Rosal from the Awards 60-year anniversary blog.)
  6. ^ http://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/221117/pit-bull-by-bronwen-dickey/
  7. ^ James Dickey bibliography

External links[edit]