By Glenn Townes
glenn.townes@njurbannews.com

Earlier this week, best selling author and fellow scribe Eric Jerome Dickey passed away at the age of 59. His untimely passing hit me hard for many reasons. He is the author of more than two dozen books and short stories. I had the opportunity to meet, interview, and chat at length with him over several years. I didn’t read all of his 29 or so books; I read and published reviews about many of them. My personal favorite was Thieves Paradise, Eric’s seventh book—published way back in 2002. You can tell by my review of the book and subsequent interviews with Eric that I am and have been a “novel” fan—pun intended—of his work for many years. At the time, I wrote, “In Thieves’ Paradise, Dickey’s writing has never been better. The book is filled with his trademark gritty, street slang, smoldering love scenes, and vivid descriptions. Dickey is indeed at his literary best!”

During one of our always enjoyable interviews, Eric shared with me how during the early days of his writing career and living in California, at one time, he didn’t have enough money to pay his telephone bill. “I told them I would pay it in a few days, and they still disconnected the phone.” Similarly, I shared a story about how I spent many times back in the early days writing a check at the grocery store on Monday and hoping that it wouldn’t clear the bank until Friday. We both chuckled and laughed about our early days of trying to make it as a writer—you know, the proverbial life as a  “starving artist.” We both rejoiced that those days of robbing Peter to pay Paul days were long gone. We were proof that the well-written word could indeed lead to a livable and comfortable life.

I’m saddened by his death. In less than 15 years, the literary world has lost three prominent, outspoken, and defining voices in African American literature. The first was Bebe Moore Campbell. Her bestsellers included Brothers and Sisters and Singing in the Comeback Choir. She passed away in 2006.

  1. Lynn Harris wrote Invisible Life, This Too Shall Pass, and Mama Dearest. He died in 2009 and now Eric Jerome Dickey in 2020. Each of them passed away at the height of their literary career and before the age of 60. During the early days of the unexpected, yet welcomed onslaught and boom of African American writers and literature during the 1990s and early 2000s, Campbell, Harris, and Dickey were frequent attendees at the annual literary extravaganza—the Harlem Book Fair in New York. Along with several others, the trio encouraged the mostly pallid world of publishing to expand and promote the works of writers of color. Dickey and others laid the foundation for what would become the emerging and enormously popular genre of contemporary urban fiction writing.

At any rate, I will miss Eric. I’ll miss his jocularity. His wittiness and sense of humor often transcended his novels. I’ll miss his generosity and philanthropy—especially when it came to helping writers, and other starving artists secure literary agents—and, more importantly—land book publishing contracts. His last book, The Son of Mr. Suleman, will be published in April 2021.

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