James Lafayette Dickey (2 February 1923 – 19 January 1997) was an American poet and novelist. He was appointed the eighteenth Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress in 1966.
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 University 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 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.
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, 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 lead 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--and he accepted a position of Professor of English and writer-in-residence at the University of South Carolina at Columbia.
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 currently a writer in New York City.
James Dickey died four 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.