Dickey was born in 1928 in Bellingham, Washington and was raised in Washington and Oregon. He attended Reed College, graduating in 1951. At Reed he wrote a novel for his bachelor's thesis and was elected to the Phi Beta Kappa Society.
He was awarded a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship and went on to study at Harvard University (M.A., 1955) and the University of Iowa (M.F.A., 1956). As a Fulbright scholar he studied at Jesus College at the University of Oxford from 1959 to 1960.
Dickey was a student of John Berryman at the Iowa Writers' Workshop. He later recalled:
First to have been at Reed College as an undergraduate with Gary Snyder, Philip Whalen and Lew Welch, second to have been in John Berryman's extraordinary and intense poetry workshop with W. D. Snodgrass, Donald Justice, Philip Levine, Paul Petrie, Robert Dana, Constance Urdang, Jane Cooper, Donald Finkel, Henri Coulette—the list continues beyond the capacity of my memory, but it was a course I approached with rapture and fear, owing in part to Berryman's sometimes jagged abruptness, as when, having warned me beforehand that he was going to exhibit the profound mortality of one of my works, he held it out at arm's length in the class, looked at it with loathing, and said, "Now, what are we to say about this ridiculous poem?"Dickey's first collection of poetry, Of the Festivity, was selected by W.H. Auden as the winner of the Yale Series of Younger Poets Competition in 1959. In the foreword to the book, Auden wrote:
It is possible to show evidence of great intelligence and sensibility but to be lacking in the first power essential to poetry, the power to speak, Mr. Dickey's lines have both.Among Dickey's subsequent collections of poetry, More Under Saturn won a silver medal from the Commonwealth Club of California in 1972, and The Rainbow Grocery received the Juniper Prize from the University of Massachusetts Press in 1978.
Dickey was an instructor in English at Cornell University from 1956 to 1959, and an assistant professor of English at Denison University from 1960 to 1962. In 1962 he joined the faculty of San Francisco State University as a professor of English and creative writing, teaching there until his retirement in 1991.
Dickey lived in San Francisco with his companion Leonard Sanazaro (October 29, 1949 - February 9, 2004), a poet who taught English and creative writing at the City College of San Francisco.
Dickey died in 1994 at Kaiser Hospital in San Francisco. The cause was complications from HIV-related surgeries. Shortly before his death, Dickey finished a poem, "The Death of John Berryman," about the suicide of his former teacher. It was published posthumously in Poetry (January 1996) and The Best American Poetry 1997.
In 1996 a collection of Dickey's poems and books was deposited at the Gay and Lesbian Center at the San Francisco Public Library.
IN THE DREAMING by WILLIAM DICKEY
Paperback: 106 pages
Publisher: University of Arkansas Press (February 1, 1994)
Amazon: IN THE DREAMING
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