James Dickey Additional Biography


(Poets and Poetry in America)

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...

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(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

James Lafayette Dickey spent his childhood in Atlanta, where his father was a suburban attorney. He attended Clemson College before entering military service for World War II during his freshman year. After the war, he attended Vanderbilt University, where he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa and from which he graduated with honors. From Vanderbilt, Dickey received both an A.B. and an M.A. in English. He began a teaching career at Rice University in 1949. His teaching was interrupted, however, when he was recalled to serve with the U.S. Air Force in the Korean War. He resumed teaching and civilian life in 1952 at the University of Florida, Gainesville.

From 1963 through 1964, Dickey was poet-in-residence at Reed College, in Portland, Oregon. He then taught at colleges in California, at the University of Wisconsin, and at the University of South Carolina. He became consultant in poetry at the Library of Congress in 1966. As a poet, he received many awards: the Union League Prize in 1958, the Vachel Lindsay Award in 1959, the Longview Award in 1959, the Melville Cane Award in 1965-1966, and the National Book Award in 1966 for the volume Buckdancer’s Choice. Dickey was a Sewanee Review Fellow from 1954 through 1955 and a Guggenheim Fellow from 1962 through 1963. His novel Deliverance was made into a critically and popularly successful film in which Dickey played the part of Sheriff Bullard.

As a poet, James Dickey avoided classification with a movement, even though for a time he and his guitar made the rounds of the poetry-reading circuit of U.S. campuses. Of his own poetry, Dickey said that he wanted what he wrote to mean something to people in the situations in which they find themselves, rather than to be a display of his own abilities as a poet. As a result, his poetry has a simplicity and a directness, as exemplified in “The Firebombing,” one of his best-known poems. Not surprisingly, one of James Dickey’s favorite poets was Richard Wilbur.

Dickey was married twice and was the father of a daughter and two sons. He was enthusiastic about field archery, hunting, and guitar playing as personal hobbies. Dickey died of complications from lung disease at the age of seventy-three.


(Poetry for Students)

Anyone who assumes that the biography of a poet is bound to be filled with a list of mundane academic positions and descriptions of a lofty,...

(The entire section is 275 words.)


(Novels for Students)

James Dickey's life was remarkable for the number of his vocations, any one of which could have kept another person busy for a lifetime. He...

(The entire section is 410 words.)