For nearly four decades, until his death in 1997, Georgia-born James Dickey was one of the nation's most important and active literary figures. He left a broad and deep literary legacy, a full body of poetry, prose, and criticism characterized by an intense, imaginative exploration of the relations between nature and humanity. Dickey's poetry in particular attracted widespread critical attention during his lifetime, and his career, which in later years grew to include a repertoire of prose, novels, screenwriting, and critical as well as children's books, will likely be an enduring object of scholarship for many years to come.
Dickey graduated from Atlanta's North Fulton High in 1941 and attended Darlington School in Rome, Georgia, 1941-1942. After college at Clemson and Vanderbilt universities, military service, and periods of teaching and post graduate studies in Texas, Florida, and Europe, Dickey detoured away from a poetry/teaching career to become a successful advertising writer and executive in New York.
In Atlanta in 1961, he returned to writing full-time after leaving his advertising job and receiving a Guggenheim Fellowship to write and publish his first collection of poetry, Into the Stone and Other Poems. Growing recognition and publication success led to stints at various schools as poet-in-residence. In 1966, Dickey received both the National Book Award and the Melville Cane Award of the Poetry Society of America for his fourth book, Buckdancer's Choice. He was later named poetry consultant at the Library of Congress (1966-1968), and after that was appointed poet-in-residence at the University of South Carolina, where he remained until his death.
Although Dickey's first love and focus was poetry (his career included more than 20 volumes of verse), his greatest popular fame grew out of his first novel, Deliverance (1970). The novel won France's Prix Medicis for best foreign book of the year and became an Academy Award-nominated film for which Dickey wrote the screenplay.
Although he was an internationally known figure, Dickey's Georgia roots remained ever a part of his native South. In 1976 his fellow Georgian Jimmy Carter invited Dickey to compose and read a poem for Carter's presidential inauguration. In 1988 Dickey was inducted into the fifty-member American Academy of Arts and Letters, and in 1989 he was selected as a judge for the Yale Series of Younger Poets. Dickey remained a prolific, energetic writer and continued teaching and working up to his death from a respiratory illness in 1997.
The Complete Poems of James Dickey, edited by Ward Briggs appeared in 2013. Another posthumous volume, Death and the Day's Light (2015), contains poetry Dickey was working on when he died and offers the writer's final views on love and death, fathers and sons, war and resurrection.
Photo courtesy of Christopher Dickey and Emory University Libraries.
The following titles by James Dickey are held by the Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library:
Gene Bullard. Charles Fries Productions, Studio City , 19XX.
Drowning with Others. Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1962.
Helmets. Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1964.
The Suspect in Poetry. Madison, Minn.: Sixties Press, 1964.
Two Poems of the Air. Portland, Ore.: Genticore Press, 1964.
Buckdancer's Choice. Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1965.
Poems 1957-1967. Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1967.
Spinning the Crystal Ball. Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1967.
Babel to Byzantium: Poets and Poetry Now. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1968.
The Achievement of James Dickey: a Comprehensive Selection of his Poems with a Critical Introduction [by] Laurence Lieberman. Glenview, Ill.: Scott, Foresman 1968.
Metaphor as Pure Adventure. Washington D.C.: Library of Congress, 1968.
Deliverance. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1970.
The Eye-Beaters, Blood, Victory, Madness, Buckhead and Mercy. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1970.
Forløsning / Pa Dansk ved Knud Søgaard. Gyldendal, c1970.
Self-Interviews. Recorded and edited by Barbara and James Reiss. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1970.
Exchanges. Bloomfield Hills, Mich.: Bruccoli Clark, 1971.
Sorties. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1971.
Firing line [transcript]: Host, William F. Buckley, Jr.; guest, James Dickey. 1971.
Flodfard Norstedt, Stockholm: 1971.
Flussfahrt : Roman.; Deutsch von Jürgen Abel. Hamburg: Rowohlt, 1971.
Forlosning. Copenhagen: Gyldendal, 1971.
Deliverance, screenplay by Dickey, Warner Bros., 1972.
Jericho: The South Beheld. Text by Dickey, illustrations by Hubert Shuptrine. Birmingham, Ala.: Oxmoor House, 1974.
Call of the Wild, screenplay by Dickey, Charles Fries, 1976.
The Strength of Fields. [single poem] Columbia, S.C.: Bruccoli Clark, 1977.
The Shark at the Window: (For My Brother's Marriage). Winston-Salem , N.C.: Palaemon Press, 1977.
The Owl King. New York: Red Angel Press, 1977.
The Enemy from Eden. Northridge, Calif.: Lord John Press, 1978.
Tucky the Hunter. Text by Dickey, illustration by Marie Angel. New York: Crown, 1978.
Veteran Birth: The Gadfly Poems 1947-1949. Salem, N.C.: Palaemon Press, 1978.
Head-Deep in Strange Sounds. Winston-Salem, N.C.: Palaemon Press, 1978.
The Water-Bug's Mittens: Ezra Pound: What We Can Use. Moscow: University of Idaho, 1979.
The Strength of Fields [collection] Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1979.
Scion. Deerfield, Mass.: Deerfield Press, 1980.
The Early Motion. Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1981.
The Starry Place Between the Antlers: Why I Live in South Carolina. Columbia, S.C.: Bruccoli Clark, 1981.
Babel to Byzantium: Poets & Poetry Now. New York: Ecco Press, 1981, c1968.
Puella. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1982.
Varmland. Winston-Salem, N.C.: Palaemon Press, 1982.
False Youth: Four Seasons. Dallas: Pressworks, 1983.
Intervisions: Poems and Photographs. Penland, N.C.: Visualternatives, 1983.
Night Hurdling: Poems, Essays, Conversations, Commencements, and Afterwords. Columbia, S.C.: Bruccoli Clark, 1983.
Sorties. Baton Rouge: LSU Press, 1984.
Self-interviews. Recorded and edited by Barbara and James Reiss. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1984, c1970.
Bronwen, the Traw, and the Shape-Shifter. Text by Dickey, illustrations by Richard Jesse Watson. New York: Bruccoli Clark, 1986.
Alnilam. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1987.
Fiore, Quentin and Bruccoli Clark Layman. Summons. Columbia , S.C.: Bruccoli Clark Layman, 1988.
To the White Sea . Boston & New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1993.
"Struggling for Wings": the art of James Dickey. Robert Kirschten, ed. Columbia, S.C.: University of South Carolina Press, c1997.
James Dickey: the Selected Poems. edited and with an introduction by Robert Kirschten. Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England, c1998.
Crux: the Letters of James Dickey / Matthew J. Bruccoli and Judith S. Baughman, editors. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1999.
Deliverance: A Screenplay. Ipswich, England, UK: Screenpress Publishing Ltd., 2003.
The One Voice of James Dickey: His Letters and Life. 2 vols. Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 2003-2005.
Classes on Modern Poets and the Art of Poetry. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 2004.
The Complete Poems of James Dickey. Columbia : University of South Carolina Press, 2013.
Death, and the Day's Light: Poems. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 2015.
The Manuscript, Archives and Rare Book Library of Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, holds an extensive amount of Dickey's letters and papers, photographs, and printed material.
Matthew J. Bruccoli Collection of James Dickey at the Ernest F. Hollings Special Collections Library, University of South Carolina holds a number of Dickey materials and manuscripts.
Washington University Libraries in Saint Louis, Missouri holds a collection of Dickey correspondence and manuscripts.