Thank you, Eric Jerome Dickey

Three days into the new year and four days before Zora’s birthday, Eric Jerome Dickey went home. Like Zora, he was just way too young. And like Zora, he gifted us one of the most prolific bodies of work among writers of his generation– of any color. Also like Zora, no timely New York Times obituary was to be found online at the time of this writing late Tuesday night, though he appeared on its bestseller lists throughout his entire career. So I first learned of his passing through touching tribute by Troy Johnson in his AALBC eNewsletter I have had sent to one or more emails since I was in college. I immediately thought of how his loved ones must feel for a new year to start off this way. How will they focus and recover? I pray they will.

Next I thought of his fans and other writers in context of the cancellation of the National Book Club Conference in Atlanta last year. Founder Curtis Bunn’s did not feel Zoom could replicate the up close and personal experiences between black authors and their fans the conference is known for. I definitely agreed. Eric was a regular at the conference and rescheduled to appear this July, as I was. I first met him there back when I was new and still felt like a spectator of the author world instead of one of its own. In other words, I was starstruck often and still am and maybe that will just never change. He was among the most visible writers just hanging around all day, giving that experience of pictures and conversations and autographs to us all. I could not wait to see him again, to be less shy about picking his brain and sharing my admiration for him.

Irony is I have been talking Eric up frequently recently, as a model I aspired to and wanted back in effect: a “book a year” writer, prospering in his self-professed “#BlackFamous” way rather than wriggling in long lines for a token or permission and amplified by a smart business approach including staff. I did not read him in college or see him in literary magazines. He was one of only a few black male authors with books sprinkled all through black communities. This was by his own design and hard work irregardless, part of a universe of African-American authors who invented a whole world for us by us. So when I saw the AALBC headline “Eric Jerome Dickey Passes,” I thought it was for a new novel of his or a special online event featuring him. I was going to sign up and watch in the same spirit of spending New Year’s Eve on a bottle of champagne, too much Chinese food and Walter Mosley’s Masterclass. No matter who you are and what you do, you must always absorb people who push you past your current level. I was confused and disoriented to clarify he passed.

Unlike Zora Neale Hurston, Eric Jerome Dickey worked for prosperity instead of obscurity; he will have the appropriate African-American grand homegoing traditions, including a headstone visible from afar. This respect and appreciation for the most tireless Black writers during their human lifetimes is what America owed Zora, her predecessors and her peers. Now, he joins her as an ancestor looking down. His example still stands for us all. Write your novel if that’s what you want to do. Start your business you’ve been talking about. Put down your phone, pick up a book and enjoy what writers like Eric create. He’s left nearly thirty novels in a short 59 years to show he never made excuses, wasted too many days or watched life pass him by.

Rest in peace…

Eric Jerome Dickey photographed by Robert Hanashiro for USA Today.

Read Essence Magazine‘s “Our 10 Favorite Books By Eric Jerome Dickey.”


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