James Dickey (1923-1997)

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James Dickey (1923-1997) wrote 26 books of poetry and three novels. His interest in poetry, which his father encouraged and nurtured, started at an early age. Dickey served in the U.S. Air Force for several years, reading apocalyptic poetry between combat missions. He then attended Vanderbilt University, where he was also encouraged to write poetry. During his senior year, one of his poems was published in the Sewanee Review. He pursued graduate work until the Air Force recalled him to train officers for the Korean War, and when he returned he took a teaching job at the University of Florida. He later resigned because he disagreed with the institutional nature of teaching. Dickey moved to New York, where he wrote advertising copy for the McCann-Ericson agency. He then went on to work for agencies in Atlanta.

After his first book of poetry was published, he decided to write poetry full-time. He received a Guggenheim Fellowship and spent a year in Italy with his family. His poetry books Helmets (1964) and Buckdancer’s Choice (1965) won both the Melville Cane Award and the National Book Award. He then spent his time teaching, writing, and lecturing. Dickey served as Poetry Consultant to the Library of Congress from 1966-1968, and wrote bestselling novel, Deliverance, in 1970. Deliverance would later become a major motion picture. He also read at President Carter’s inauguration in 1977 and served as judge of the Yale Younger Poets series. A few more of Dickey’s poetry books include Into the Stone and Other Poems (1960), Drowning with Others (1962), and The Eagle’s Mile (1990). His poetry delved into the secretly violent nature of humans and animals and was said to be “willfully eccentric” and “naturally musical.”


Written by Word Works intern Monica Root October 2013

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