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Eric Jerome Dickey Biography - Followed an Unlikely Road to Fame, First Novel Rose to Bestseller Status, Selected works

dutton sister black characters

1961–

Writer

Eric Jerome Dickey has made a name for himself as "one of the few kings of popular African-American fiction for women," according to the New York Times. By 2006 Dickey had topped the New York Times bestseller list six times. Selling more than 500,000 books each year since 1999, Dickey has found a large reading audience with his novels that shatter stereotypes about blacks as they explore complex relationships between the sexes. The depth and realism with which Dickey infuses his characters have prompted comparisons to the popular author Terry McMillan. While Dickey's novels have focused on the ups and downs of love in all its forms, they also expose the humor in the foibles and follies of romance. They also celebrate the incredible power of friendship to heal emotional wounds and pave the road to true and lasting relationships. This "Dickey-esque" approach has made him immensely popular with readers, who eagerly buy up his latest works and appear in droves at his book signings.

Followed an Unlikely Road to Fame

As a child growing up in Memphis, Tennessee, Dickey demonstrated no special talent or avid interest in writing. Upon graduating from Carver High School, he set his sights on a career in engineering rather than the arts and earned a degree in computer system technology at Memphis State University (later known as the University of Memphis). After college Dickey moved to Los Angeles to take a job as a software developer for Rockwell, an aerospace company that later became part of Boeing. While spending the next nine years doing technical writing, Dickey found his artistic side kept rising to the surface. He satisfied this urge by pursuing various acting roles and also appearing as a stand-up comedian. Eventually his comedy stints put him in front of a microphone at clubs across the west, from Seattle, Washington, to San Antonio, Texas.

Dickey's "extracurricular" activities assumed a more prominent role in his life when a recession hit the aerospace industry in the early 1990s and put him out of work as a result of company "downsizing." At this time Dickey began devoting more time to writing, especially poetry and short stories. "I'd written a few shorts in high school, nothing great, but during the time I was about to get laid off, I sat back and recaptured that," he told chance22 publishing on the Web. Dickey added that he "remembered how much fun it was to make something out of nothing, and get ALL of the credit for it."

To help accelerate the evolution of his writing talent, Dickey decided to join the International Black Writers and Artists (IBWA) association and enroll in some of their workshops. He then earned an IBWA SEED scholarship for taking creative writing classes at the University of California at Los Angeles. Before long Dickey had published his first short story, a piece entitled "Thirteen" that appeared in an IBWA publication called River Crossing, Voices of the Diaspora: An Anthology of the International Black Experience. He followed this up with another short story, "Days Gone By," that was published in the magazine A Place to Enter. These successes led Dickey to reexamine some pieces he had written earlier, out of which evolved a screenplay called Cappuccino that was later filmed and aired in coffeehouses around the Los Angeles area.

First Novel Rose to Bestseller Status

Major recognition came Dickey's way with the publication of his first novel, Sister, Sister, by Dutton of the Penguin Putnam Inc. publishing group in 1996. The book made it to number one on the "Blackboard Bestsellers List" featured in Essence magazine and earned the author legions of fans coast to coast. Hailed for its wit and vibrant characters, Sister, Sister tells the story of three young black women in Los Angeles whose relationships with men and each other intersect in complicated and comedic ways as their lives both come apart and come together. Dickey tantalized readers with strange entanglements such as two good friends who, each unbeknownst to the other, are being cheated on by the same man. The author's shifting of points of view in the story between the three major characters confirmed his ability to convey different types of women. "Remarkably, Dickey is able both to create believable female characters and to explore the 'sister-sister' relationship with genuine insight," noted Lillian Lewis in her review in Booklist.

One year later, Dickey struck literary gold again with Friends and Lovers, also published by Dutton. "Second novelist Dickey more than fulfills the promise shown in Sister, Sister (1996), again offering real characters and invigorating, believable dialogue," praised Kirkus Reviews in its assessment of the book. In this novel, Dickey explored the lives of two young black men and two young black women whose love lives take them on a roller coaster ride. Filled with comedic misunderstandings that threaten to derail both budding and established romances, Friends and Lovers once again offered chapters in the voices of each character and lots of "engagingly trendy dialogue" (Publishers Weekly). Clearly, Dickey borrowed from his own life for this story, as the characters include a computer-company executive and an aspiring stand-up comedian. The importance of friendship is a key theme of the book, especially its power to overcome tragedy. Issues such as how to recognize when a romance is for real, when and when not to have sex, and when to get married are handled deftly by Dickey in what Publishers Weekly called "another sexy, sophisticated portrayal of hip black L.A." Dickey's second novel repeated the success of Sister, Sister by also making it to the top of Essence's "Blackboard Bestsellers List."

Dickey's appeal with readers, as noted in a review of his novel Milk in My Coffee in a 1998 issue of Publishers Weekly, Dickey rested on his "easy mastery of dialogue and voice" and his "cheerful, wittily acerbic eye for the troubles that plague lovers in the 1990s." Milk in My Coffee dealt with a black man named Jordan Greene who begins dating a white woman and must deal with the negative reactions of his own black friends. When his pal Solomon tells him, "If you go white stay outta sight," Jordan tries to figure out what his own values are regarding romance that crosses the color line. "Dickey goes far beyond the stereotypes, infusing all his characters with complex emotional lives," wrote Ron Hogan in his review of the book for the Amazon.com site on the Web. Booklist noted that the book confirmed Dickey's continuing maturation as a writer, saying that "this story is definitely more developed than his two previous novels."

At a Glance …

Born on July 7, 1961, Memphis, TN. Education: Memphis State University (now University of Memphis), BS, Computer System Technology, 1983; attended University of California at Los Angeles, 1995–97.

Career: Rockwell International, software development, 1983–92; actor and stand-up comedian, 1980s–90s; Rowland Unified School District, educator, 1994–97; writer, novelist, 1992–.

Memberships: Alpha Phi Alpha, 1980–; International Black Writers and Artists, (IBWA/LA), 1993–; Project Reach, mentor, 1996–.

Awards: City of Pomona, CA, Proclamation, 1998; Edna Crotchfield Founders Award, Commitment as Literary Artist, 1995; NAACP Image Award nomination for Outstanding Fiction, 2001, 2002, 2003, and 2004.

Addresses: Publisher—c/o Dutton, 375 Hudson St., New York, NY 10014; Web—www.ericjeromedickey.com.

Into the 2000s Dickey continued to write a novel or more each year. Though his first books explored the yearning for marriage often felt in young adulthood romance, his subsequent novels dealt with more mature relationships and sometimes the rumblings of divorce. Liar's Game explored the complexity past regrets bring to new relationships, and Between Lovers exposes the life of a woman from the perspective of the man she left at the altar. While Dickey populated most of his stories with middle-class characters, he explored the love lives of those more down-on-their-luck in Thieves Paradise and Drive Me Crazy, with tales of love affairs and illegal dealings. No matter the setting of his stories or social class of his characters, Dickey formed a solid fan base and garnered critical praise for each successive novel. Dickey explained in an interview on the Book Page Web site that he never started a story with a firm plan for its ending, no moral he was trying to highlight; he simply followed where his characters took him. "The moment readers open my novels I hope Eric Jerome Dickey and his opinions disappear, and it's the characters who keep them turning the page," Dickey told Essence.

But Dickey's writing career does more than just keep readers turning pages. Dickey's screenplay Cappucino was shown in 1998 at the Pan African Film Festival at the Magic Johnson Theater in Los Angeles, and has since been aired in other film festivals. His Friends and Lovers book was turned into a film in 2005. Dickey also broadened his creative output by signing with Marvel to create a six issue comic series about the marriage of the two most widely recognized black superheroes, Black Panther and Storm. The first issues of the comic were printed in the spring of 2006. Despite these sidelights, Dickey continued to pump out novels; his twelfth, Chasing Destiny about a pregnant woman and her married boyfriend, was published in 2006.

Selected works

Books

Sister, Sister, Dutton, 1996.
Friends and Lovers, Dutton, 1997.
Milk in My Coffee, Dutton, 1998.
Cheaters, Dutton, 1999.
Liar's Game, Dutton, 2000.
Between Lovers, Dutton, 2001.
Thieves Paradise, Dutton, 2002.
Naughty or Nice, Dutton, 2003.
The Other Woman, Dutton, 2003.
Drive Me Crazy, Dutton, 2004.
Genevieve, Dutton, 2005.
Chasing Destiny, Dutton, 2006.

Sources

Periodicals

Essence, August 2005, p. 111.

Booklist, September 15, 1996, p. 220; September 1, 1997, pp. 56-57.

Kirkus Reviews, August 15, 1996; September 1, 1997; September 1, 1998.

New York Times, July 29, 2004.

Publishers Weekly, September 1, 1997, pp. 92-93; July 6, 1998, p. 47.

On-line

"Eric Dickey: Former Comedian Brings Witty Realism to LA Novels," BookPage, www.bookpage.com/0007bp/eric_dickey.html (March 21, 2006).

Other

Additional information for this profile was obtained from publicity materials provided by Dutton, as well as from the chance22 publishing and Amazon.com sites on the World Wide Web.

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