James Dickey was a tall, barrel-chested man who loved drinking whiskey, playing guitar and telling tall tales.
He was also a world-class author and poet.
Born in Atlanta, Dickey spent a semester at Clemson University – then Clemson Agricultural College –before joining the Army. After his service, he began writing in earnest.
He was named a poetry consultant for the Library of Congress in 1967 and subsequently accepted a teaching position as poet-in-residence at the University of South Carolina.
While living in Columbia, Dickey wrote “Deliverance,” the book that would make him famous and exponentially boost the university’s literary profile.
The story about a perilous weekend canoe trip ends for most readers with nightmares of vicious rapids, mad hillbillies and dueling banjos. For Dickey, it ended with a movie version of his novel and a cameo in the film as a sheriff. The author would reportedly surprise customers at film screenings and march up and down the aisles, delivering the sheriff's lines in perfect sync with his image on the screen.
Dickey died at Providence Hospital on Jan. 19, 1997, after a long illness.
There was a public memorial on the USC Horseshoe where Dickey was described as a deep thinker who relished life. But mostly, he was remembered how he preferred to describe himself, as a poet.
About this series: The inaugural edition of The State newspaper was published Feb. 18, 1891. In anticipation of the 125th anniversary, the Palmetto section and this section at thestate.com are recounting each day how The State covered newsmakers and events vital to South Carolina’s history.