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James Dickey: A Literary Life

By author: Gordon Van Ness
Product Code: HH1021
ISBN: 9780881468267
Publisher: Mercer University Press
Availability: In stock
Price: $45.00

The dramatic rise in James Dickey's reputation in the 1960s and his equally abrupt fall from literary grace during the 1970s is arguably the most distinctive feature of his career. Critics frequently cited alcoholism as the cause for this precipitous decline, which diminished Dickey's creativity, or they noted his financial success, which undermined his will to achieve. Self-aggrandizement and womanizing, they argued, also contributed to derailing his literary achievements. Reviewers largely denigrated his poetry after the success of his 1970 novel DELIVERANCE or offered ad hominem attacks, failing to acknowledge his startling poetic language and the diversity of his poetic forms that creatively reimagined the world. While they celebrated his early work, they ignored his later poems. Van Ness puts this all in perspective. This literary biography centers on Dickey as poet, novelist, essayist, critic, and teacher, a man who throughout his life did what writers are supposed to do--write. Additionally, he spent time teaching and discussing writing, which is also part of the profession of authorship. From the autobiography Dickey penciled of himself at age five to the poems he composed at the age of seventy-three while dying of fibrosis of the lungs, James Dickey believed in the magic of language, in the possibility of words. Here, author Gordon Van Ness shows Dickey's artistic beginnings and the rise and fall of his career, the man as a writer. Dickey's life was indeed complicated, but his words endure, and they merit the highest attention.
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Review by: Donald Greiner, Carolina Distinguished Professor of English, University of South Carolina - December 15, 2021
The great novelist William Styron described James Dickey as 'the laureate of his generation,' but even Dickey's closest friends (and I was one) could not strip away the poet's many personae to understand what drove the complex man who wrote the memorable poems, from 'The Performance' and 'The Lifeguard' to 'The Firebombing' and 'Falling.' But Gordon Van Ness has succeeded where we failed. His JAMES DICKEY: A LITERARY LIFE is the biography the poet deserves: an incisive exploration that reads the art through the life and the life through the art. Dickey once wrote, 'I move at the heart of the world.' Van Ness's knowledge of Dickey's life and art is so comprehensive that he 'moves' with him.
Review by: Robert Hill, professor emeritus, Kennesaw State University, and coauthor with Richard J. Calhoun of JAMES DICKEY - December 15, 2021
If you read only one biography of James Dickey, this is it. Van Ness has caught, in exquisite detail, the massive, complex accomplishment that was, and is, that 'Energized Man.' It is a 'life's work,' in the best possible sense: comprehensive literary criticism and history with impeccable style and affectionate good humor.
Review by: Julie Bloemeke, author of SLIDE TO UNLOCK - December 15, 2021
Gordon Van Ness explores what has often been sidelined in James Dickey's literary legacy: his dedication to and love for creative pedagogy. By extricating the haunted humanity of Dickey, Van Ness allows us to see the tenderness of a poet who believed, and lived by, the tenet that 'teaching a course in poetry, either writing it or reading it, becomes a course in existence, pure and simple.' In presenting Dickey through 'the magnifying lens of literature,' Van Ness encourages us to reach beyond previous perception, to reconsider the absence of critical study of Dickey's work. It is here, 'liberated from time,' where we discover an indispensable gateway into Dickey's poetic brilliance.
Review by: Philip Williams, author of EDEN'S LOST HORIZON: POEMS FOR THE EARTH - December 15, 2021
This fine biography may well help return James Dickey to the literary prominence he once held in American letters. By focusing on Dickey’s work in the context of his life, Van Ness reminds us that, at his best, Dickey wrote poetry and fiction that should endure. This is a strong argument, beautifully made.

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