During his childhood, Eric Jerome Dickey ('83 BSET) didn't
stray far from his southwest Memphis neighborhood. As an adult,
however, the best-selling author crosses the continent on
Dickey's journey from University of Memphis student to successful
writer has brought him many rewards, including a key to the
city of Memphis. But the road to success wasn't always paved
smoothly, as Dickey recalls.
"I remember just being scared," he says of his
first year at The U of M. "There was uncertainty about
the future. I was in search of direction, afraid to come back
home with my tail between my legs - especially when my grandmother
gave a week's paycheck to buy my books."
Dickey avoided a premature homecoming, however. Four years
later, he graduated and landed a job on the West Coast, a
region that proved to be fertile ground for Dickey's imagination.
Dickey didn't go it alone - along the way, helping hands
served as the support system he needed to reach new heights.
At The U of M, Dickey met his collegiate "guardian angel,"
Richard Jones. Now an athletic academic counselor, Jones mentored
Dickey and found him a work-study job at the University Center
"I fell into good hands with Richard Jones," Dickey
says. "For most African-Americans, he was our guidance
counselor, our 'daddy.' He was always there for us."
A computer science major, Dickey sought academic guidance
from computer systems technology professor Jack Carter. "That
guy was fantastic," Dickey says. Being in Carter's class
"was like putting on a pair of shoes that fit,"
Though he pursued a major in engineering, it was Dickey's
experiences in English and writing classes that foreshadowed
his career path.
The author notes one such experience he had in a freshman
English course. After he and his classmates completed a typical
"English 1101" assignment, the instructor wasn't
"She was very upset," Dickey says. "Everyone
messed up the assignment. I saw D's on this side of me and
F's on the other. I started thinking about labor gigs I could
But Dickey never got his paper. Instead, the instructor announced
that "only one student did the assignment right"
and proceeded to read his paper to the entire class.
Other signs of his writing talent continued during Dickey's
upper-level English classes. Professors often promised that
he would be published someday, but Dickey says he had his
But the move west caused a shift in Dickey's confidence.
Segue, setup, punchline
The first time Dickey went to California was for a job interview
- the second time was to accept the job. "I flew to Anaheim
for a job interview with Rockwell (now Boeing)," Dickey
says. "It was a free trip to California, but I never
thought they'd hire me."
Rockwell was impressed with Dickey, though, and the next
thing he knew, he was on his way to a new life in the Golden
Life in the "real world" moved at a crawl compared
to his life as a college student, where Dickey juggled multiple
jobs, led a fraternity and kept busy with other student activities.
Seeking extracurricular activities after college, Dickey stumbled
onto the Los Angeles arts scene.
"In L.A., there were so many artistic outlets that didn't
exist in Memphis," he says. After a hard day's work at
Rockwell, Dickey often spent evenings doing stand-up and theatre
gigs. It provided a sort of "dress rehearsal" for
future writing endeavors. "It all really lends to writing
and storytelling," Dickey says. "Segue, setup, punch
Dickey's moonlighting wasn't limited to stand-up, either.
He also tried his hand at theatre, auditioned for commercials
and acted in an L.A.-area cable soap opera. He then decided
to try his hand at crafting scripts and that was when his
writing career took off. He wrote a screenplay, Cappuccino,
that was made into a film and released in 1998. "You
learn so much about characters and themes," he says.
"At some point, you'll look at someone else's work and
think, 'I can do something better than that.'"
of M alumnus Eric Jerome Dickey has authored six published
Friends and Lovers (1997)
Milk in My Coffee (1998)
Liar's Game (2000)
Between Lovers (2001)
also has contributed to a short story collection,
Got to Be Real (2000) and to Mothers and
Sons (2000), a collection of stories and memoirs.
Dickey has done something better - he's got six novels to
his credit and currently is working on the seventh. His books
are often described as "urban love stories" and
have appeared on many regional best-seller lists. His latest
novel, Between Lovers, reached No. 10 on the New
York Times list.
Dickey spent part of last summer promoting Between Lovers,
including a trip to Memphis where he was honored with a reception
at The U of M. "I really got emotional that day,"
he says. "Being home and getting welcomed like that -
it was overwhelming."
The visit also marked the launch of the Eric Jerome Dickey
Library and Literary Enrichment Fund, sponsored by the Alpha
Phi Alpha fraternity. Proceeds will benefit the University's
Ned R. McWherter Library.
The fund already has raised thousands of dollars for the
library. The money will be used to buy new books, journals
and research materials - resources to support and encourage
future authors, among others.
Giving to the library was the natural thing to do, Dickey
says. "For me, growing up with no money, we just didn't
have the money to buy books - and the library is always there.
With the library fund, you can help a lot of people, some
who may have the desire to do what I've done."
At his current pace of churning out a novel every year, Dickey
is showing no signs of stopping - or even slowing down. With
years of hard work, and with the Alpha Phi Alpha endowment,
he has cleared a path for others to follow.