In The One Voice of James Dickey, Gordon Van Ness skillfully documents James Dickey’s growth from a callow teen interested primarily in sports to a mature poet who possessed literary genius and who deliberately advanced himself and his career. The letters from 1942 through 1969 depict Dickey gradually establishing a self-identity, deciding to write, struggling to determine a subject matter and style, working determinedly to gain initial recognition, and eventually seeking out the literary establishment to promote himself and his views on poetry. The letters also portray a complex personality with broad interests, acute intelligence, and heightened imagination as well as a deep need to re-create his past and assume various roles in the present.
From Dickey’s extensive correspondence, Van Ness has selected not only those letters that best reveal the chronological development of Dickey’s career and his conscious efforts to chart its course, but also those that portray his other interests and depict the various features of his personality. The letters are grouped by decade, with each period placed in perspective by a critical introduction. The introductory sections offer a psychological understanding of Dickey’s personality by identifying the needs and fears that affected his actions. They also explain the American literary and cultural scene that Dickey confronted as he matured. Together, the letters and commentary yield a sense of Dickey’s complex personality—both the man as a writer and the writer as a man—while arguing that he remained “one voice.”
Because how a writer writes—the appearance of a writer’s words on a page—makes a statement, the letters are reproduced here without alterations. There are no silent deletions or revisions; the original spelling and punctuation have been preserved. Dickey’s letters gathered in The One Voice of James Dickey portray a poet’s consciousness, chronicling its growth and revealing its breadth. They do not contain the whole truth, but they are what we have.