James Dickey

James Dickey (1923-1997). Courtesy Wikipedia.

James Dickey
Born James Lafayette Dickey
February 2, 1923(1923-Template:MONTHNUMBER-02)
Atlanta, Georgia, United States
Died January 19, 1997(1997-Template:MONTHNUMBER-19) (aged 73)
Columbia, South Carolina, United States
Occupation Poet, novelist, critic, lecturer
Nationality United States American
Period Contemporary literature

James Lafayette Dickey (February 2, 1923 - January 19, 1997) was an American poet and novelist,[1] who served as U.S. Poet Laureate.[2]



Dickey was born to Maibelle (Swift) and lawyer Eugene Dickey 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 in the U.S. Army night fighter squadrons during World War II, 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.



1972 Press Photo Burt Reynolds (r), actor in Deliverance, with writer James Dickey.

From 1950 to 1954, Dickey taught at Rice University (then Rice Institute) in Houston. While teaching freshman composition at Rice, Dickey returned for a 2-year air force stint in Korea, and went back to teaching. (Norton Anthology, The Literature of the American South, 809) 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 returned to poetry in 1960, and his first book, "Into the Stone and Other Poems", was published in 1960 and "Drowning with Others" was published in 1962, which led to a Guggenheim fellowship (Norton Anthology, The Literature of the American South) Buckdancer's Choice earned him a National Book Award in 1965. 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 also accepted a position of Professor of English and writer-in-residence at the University of South Carolina at Columbia.

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

Private lifeEdit

James Dickey Grave

Grave of James Dickey, Pawley's Island, SC, USA. Photo by Oldpointe. Licensed under Creative Commons, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

In November 1948 Dickey married Maxine Syerson, and 3 years later they had a son, Christopher; another son, Kevin, was born in 1958. 2 months after Maxine died in 1976, Dickey married Deborah Dodson. Their daughter, Bronwen, was born in 1981. Christopher is a novelist and journalist, who 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 based in New York City.

James Dickey spent his last years in and out of hospitals, afflicted first with jaundice and later fibrosis of the lungs. He also suffered from alcoholism. He died on January 19, 1997, 6 days after his last class at the University of South Carolina, where from 1968 he had been poet-in-residence.


He was appointed the 18th Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress in 1966.[2]

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.

Publications Edit


  • Into the Stone, and other poems. New York: Scribner, 1960.
  • Drowning with Others , Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1962
  • Helmets. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1964.
  • Two Poems of the Air, Portland, OR: Centicore Press, 1964.
  • Buckdancer's Choice. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1965.
  • Poems, 1957-67. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1968.
  • The Eye-Beaters, Blood, Victory, Madness, Buckhead and Mercy. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1970.
  • Exchanges. Columbia, SC: Bruccoli Clark, 1971.
  • The Zodiac (long poem; based on Hendrik Marsman's poem of the same title), Garden City, NY: Doubleday , 1976.
  • The Strength of Fields (long poem). Columbia, SC: Bruccoli Clark, 1977.
  • The Strength of Fields (collection). Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1979.
  • Head-Deep in Strange Sounds: Improvisations from the unEnglish. Winston-Salem, NC: Palaemon Press, 1979.
  • Scion, Deerfield, MA: Deerfield Press, 1980.
  • The Early Motion: "Drowning with Others" and "Helmets". Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1981.
  • Falling, May Day Sermon, and other poems. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1981.
  • The Eagle's Mile. Columbia, SC: Bruccoli Clark, 1981.
  • Puella. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1982.
  • Vaermland: Poems Based on Poems. Winston-Salem, NC: Palaemon Press, 1982.
  • False Youth: Four Seasons. Dallas, TX: Pressworks, 1983.
  • Intervisionss: Poems and Photographs (with Sharon Anglin Kuhne). Visualternatives, 1983.
  • The Central Motion: Poems 1968-79. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1983.
  • Veteran Birth: The Gadfly Poems, 1947-1949. Winston-Salem, NC: Palaemon Press, 1983.
  • Bronwen, The Traw, and the Shape-Shifter: A Poem in Four Parts(for children, illustrations by Richard Jesse Watson). New York: Harcourt, 1986.
  • Of Prisons and Ideas. New York: Harcourt, 1987.
  • Summons. Columbia, SC: Bruccoli Clark, 1988.
  • The Eagle's Mile. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1990.
  • The Whole Motion: Collected poems, 1949-92. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1992.
  • James Dickey: The selected poems (edited and with an introduction by Robert Kirschten). Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 1998.


  • Deliverance (excerpt titled "Two Days in September" published in Atlantic Monthly, February, 1970). Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1970.
  • Alnilam. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1987.
  • To the White Sea. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1993.


  • The Suspect in Poetry (criticism). Madison, MN: Sixties Press, 1964.
  • A Private Brinksmanship (lecture given at Pitzer College, June 6, 1965). Pasadena, CA: Castle Press, 1965.
  • Spinning the Crystal Ball: Some guesses at the future of American poetry (lecture given at Library of Congress, April 24, 1967 ). Washington, DC: Library of Congress, 1967.
  • Metaphor as Pure Adventure (lecture given at Library of Congress, December 4, 1967). Washington, DC: Library of Congress, 1968.
  • Babel to Byzantium: Poets and poetry now (criticism). New York: Farrar, Straus, 1968.
  • Self-Interviews (informal monologues; excerpt titled "The Poet Tries to Make a Kind of Order" published in Mademoiselle, September, 1970), (recorded and edited by Barbara Reiss and James Reiss). Garden City, NJ: Doubleday, 1970.
  • Sorties: Journals and new essays. Garden City, NJ: Doubleday, 1971.
  • Jericho: The south beheld (with Hubert Shuptrine). Birmingham, AL: Oxmoor, 1974.
  • God's Images: The Bible, a new vision (With Marvin Hayes). Birmingham, AL: Oxmoor, 1977.
  • The Enemy from Eden. Northridge, CA: Lord John Press, 1978.
  • In Pursuit of the Grey Soul. Columbia, SC: Bruccoli Clark, 1978.
  • The Water Bug's Mittens (Ezra Pound Lecture at University of Idaho). Columbia, SC: Bruccoli Clark, 1980.
  • The Starry Place between the Antlers: Why I live in South Carolina. Columbia, SC: Bruccoli Clark, 1981.
  • Wayfarer: A voice from the southern mountains. Birmingham, AL: Oxmoor, 1988.
  • Southern Light (with photography by James Valentine). Birmingham, AL: Oxmoor, 1991.


  • Tucky the Hunter (poetry). New York: Crown, 1978.

Collected editionsEdit

James Dickey reading "Under Buzzards," (a poem for Robert Penn Warren) at Yale

James Dickey reading "Under Buzzards," (a poem for Robert Penn Warren) at Yale

  • Night Hurdling: Poems, essays, conversations, commencements, and afterwords. Columbia, SC: Bruccoli Clark, 1983.

Except where noted, bibliographical information courtesy the Poetry Foundation.[3]

See alsoEdit


  1. New York Times
  2. 2.0 2.1 "Poet Laureate Timeline: 1961-1970". Library of Congress. 2008. Retrieved 2008-12-19. 
  3. James L. Dickey 1923-1997, Poetry Foundation, Web, June 24, 2012.

External linksEdit

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