As soon as I read the text, a gasp escaped from my mouth.
My hand immediately found its way to my chest as it embraced my shock.
And my phone fell to the floor.
Eric Jerome Dickey, one of my two favorite fiction writers, had passed away at the age of 59.
We were only five days into 2021. Yet here I was receiving information that turned my joyous day into one of sorrow, sadness and perplexion. Instead of pushing the feelings aside in favor of continuing with the work that was before me, I gave myself grace to sit with my thoughts for a while as I reflected on the impact EJD’s legacy had on my life.
I’ve always loved to read.
As a child, if I wasn’t outside playing, inside watching Sesame Street or eating, there was a high probability you would find me somewhere propped up with a book in my hand. When I was a toddler, my books of choice were they rhymings of Dr. Seuss. As I pranced up in age, The Berenstain Bears books were my go tos. I had them all. Still do. By the time my teen years rolled around, I was knee deep in The Babysitters’ Club and Sweet Valley High books.
When I left the nest to go to college, I took my love of reading with me. However, pleasure reading wasn’t high on my priority list as an 18 year old on an extended stay away from home. Hey, don’t worry about what was on my list! I got my degrees. Two of them.
In the midst of living the college life, I remember a chat I had with a friend’s sister one day about a certain book. It was about a man who was involved in a custody battle as he worked to restore sanity to his life after a bitter divorce. While entrenched in his current situation, he met a woman who had recently moved to Los Angeles in search of a fresh start. The storyline didn’t sound like anything I hadn’t heard before. As I expressed my thoughts, my friend’s sister informed me that while the plot was common the storytelling wasn’t.
She was right.
Liar’s Game by Eric Jerome Dickey was a gamechanger.
I read the book in two days.
Until then, I had never encountered a story where the characters were so vivid and relatable. They were multifaceted. They were complex. They were deep. From the time they were introduced to the last word of the book, they drew you in to their world in such a way that you felt like you were on the frontlines with them.
The detail in the scenarios, the care in the unveiling of truths, the devotion to the authenticity of the feelings, the descriptive layering of the backgrounds, the raw emotions of the moments, and the dedication to the development of the protagnonists, antagonists and those in between was astonishing.
I was hooked.
Give me more!
Before he had written Liar’s Game, EJD had penned four novels: Sister, Sister, Friends & Lovers, Milk in My Coffee and Cheaters. Throughout the course of finishing college, I read them all plus Between Lovers’ which was published in 2001.
Then 2002 hit and he dropped Thieves’ Paradise. For me though, this was different. Previously I had been playing catch up. At this point, I was living in real time as a full on fan of Eric Jerome Dickey. The day the book was released, I was at the bookstore making my purchase. I think I might’ve even skipped class like back in the day when I had to make to it the local record store to pick up the latest release. As was the case before, I wasn’t disappointed with his latest literary work of art.
His books were masterpieces. I was drawn into almost every character as I saw myself often reflected in them. He addressed issues that were common in the black community. He approached them in a way that created depth and prompted you to want to take inventory of your own life. He made you feel seen, heard and valued. Simply through his characters.
I had read thousands of books before I was introduced to Liar’s Game. However, this book assisted me in starting down the path of unconvering my most authentic self. For a young black woman, this transformation is huge.
And it was something that I needed him to know.
In May 2003, I got my chance to tell him.
Imagine my surprise when I found out EJD was going to be coming to Durham for a book signing on the day his novel, “The Other Woman” would be released. When I found out, I didn’t care what was on my calendar for that day, I was going to be there. And I was.
I don’t get too giddy when I meet celebrities, except for those times when I met Forever POTUS and FLOTUS Barack and Michelle Obama and Vince Carter, but I was excited as a little girl meeting her favorite princess at Disney on this day.
When I arrived, there was already a line of black women of various ages waiting to be seated because they too wanted to be in the presence of greatness. When he walked out to take his seat, the crowd erupted. I might’ve even let out an Arsenio Hall “Woo woo woo.” It was so necessary.
For close to an hour, he shared his process in bringing this story to life and he answered questions about his career. He laughed with us, encouraged us and uplifted us. Then he signed our books. One by one, he invited us up to the table. He asked our names, asked us questions and didn’t rush us when many of us found ourselves shocked that we were living in that moment.
I really wish I could remember some of the exact words we exchanged that day but I can’t. One thing I do know is that I left thinking, the type of man I always assumed could narrate our stories so well is exactly the man I just met.
Subsequently, his next four book releases coincided with him coming to Durham on the day of the release. It also coincided with me being there for them each time. I even have the picture to prove it. Unfortunately, it’s in storage right now because I never planned to be writing down these thoughts this year.
The text was a hard one to read. Sent by my other favorite fiction author, Trice Hickman, she had reached out to send me some love because she knew how much his work meant to me.
As a writer, I now fully grasp the impact his legacy Eric Jerome Dickey has had on my life.
Words have a way of pushing you into action.
Words have a way of prompting you to make changes.
Words have a way of nudging you to self reflect.
Words have a way of changing your life, literally.
And I’m grateful that the masterful Eric Jerome Dickey took his time to craft his in a way that will influence generations of lives for decades.
Well done, EJD.