Born to lawyer Eugene Dickey and Maibelle Swift Dickey in the Atlanta suburb of Buckhead, James Lafayette Dickey was a mediocre high school student who preferred the athletic field to the classroom. After becoming an acclaimed football player at North Fulton High School, Dickey went on to play wingback at Clemson College in 1941 before joining the Army Air Corps the following year. Dickey was assigned to the 418th Night Fighter Squadron because of his exceptional night vision. He flew more than one hundred combat missions in the South Pacific, for which he was awarded several medals, including the Distinguished Flying Cross. After World War II, Dickey enrolled at Vanderbilt University with the intention of pursuing a career as a writer. In 1949, he earned a B.A. in English magna cum laude; he stayed on at Vanderbilt to take an M.A. in English, writing a thesis titled “Symbol and Imagery in the Shorter Poems of Herman Melville.” While at the university, he also joined the track team and won the Tennessee State High Hurdles Championship. He published several poems in the campus literary magazine and one in Sewanee Review; he also married Maxine Syerson, with whom he had two sons.
In 1951, Dickey began teaching at Rice University before being recalled by the Air Force to fight in the Korean War. Following his discharge, Dickey returned to teach at Rice briefly, before earning a fellowship from Sewanee Review, which he used to travel and...
(The entire section is 499 words.)