On January 3, 2021, we lost a literary legend. An unofficial member of the “Black Girls who Read 101” syllabus, Eric Jerome Dickey. I write this while feeling hollow and distant. To see someone who made such an impact on my reading journey pass away is odd. It feels different than learning of the passing of Toni Morrison or Maya Angelou. They were made legends long before my birth and were sitting on the height of their impact. They were older in age and it was expected as a part of life. The passing of Mr. Dickey hits closer to home.
My relationship with Mr. Dickey’s work is strained. I started reading his work when I was ENTIRELY too young and had no real understanding of the themes included. Like many voracious young readers, I was eager to read anything that captured my interest. But I wanted to read books that represented people who looked like me, written by people who looked like me. At some point, I had read all Sharon Mills Draper, Kimani Tru and Bluford High had to offer. So, I ventured over to books written for adults.
Carl Weber, Sister Souljah, Kimberla Lawson Roby, Omar Tyree/ Urban Griot and Mary B Monroe were all the name of the game back then. Carl Weber’s So You Call Yourself a Man contained such a big plot twist that I have YET to encounter a such a plot twist since. It made such an impact that when reading Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, I figured out the plot twist after two chapters. SPOILER ALERT: She’s lying and she’s crazy. They each had a familiar cadence of good and bad and drama. However, after reading Mr. Dickey’s work, I didn’t feel the way I felt when I finished reading books by the others. I felt dark and a bit gloomy. You see, in Eric Jerome Dickey’s work the characters are human. They are both right and wrong, victim and villain and messy. He wrote characters in such a way that made me look at the people around me differently.
The world is not black and white or even gray, it exists rather in the same world as The Dress, blue and black or white and gold based on who is looking and the time of day. His work introduced me to realistic character analysis. Why do people move the way they do? What led to this character reacting this way? How would I react if I were this character? His work took away some of the naivete I had and opened me up to new understandings and world views. For this, I am grateful to Eric Jerome Dickey for utilizing his gifts and sharing them with the world. I send my condolences to his family and loved ones.
May he rest in peace.