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April 24, 2007

Booksmart - Dickey’s gift of storytelling lifts it from labeling

Eric Jerome Dickey: Photo courtesy of CurtisWilsonPhotography Best-selling novelist Eric Jerome Dickey comes to Carmichael’s tomorrow night.Last Tuesday, the Louisville Free Public Library received 42 copies of Eric Jerome Dickey’s latest book, “Sleeping with Strangers.” Just as quickly, they all went to members citywide who had signed up for a waiting list. Almost any library clerk or manager could have predicted this phenomenon, and many attest to the popularity of any work by the Memphis-born author, a former computer programmer who now writes best-selling novels that vividly detail the complex relationships, many romantic, of his diverse characters, while taking readers on a ride through unexpected plot twists. “It’s rare to find a Dickey book on the shelf,” says Nancye Browning, a library spokesperson and manager. She notes that the author’s popularity extends from the Shawnee branch on the city’s west side to the branch out east in Middletown. Dickey visits Carmichael’s Bookstore tomorrow to read from his latest release, a crime story he describes as a “hit in progress.” Since his first published book in 1996, Dickey, who now lives in Los Angeles, has created a buzz in the publishing world and on book pages. Journalists often refer to his work as “contemporary African-American writing,” and while he does write primarily about African-American characters for an audience that includes many African Americans, he eschews the label. “Sleeping With Strangers” by Eric Jerome Dickey.“Anybody who’s not white always gets pigeonholed in this country,” he told LEO last week from a Dallas stop on his current book tour. “You don’t see white writers labeled as ‘the new Catholic writer’ or the ‘new Jewish writer.’ (African Americans) are of this country, but they make us feel like we’re not necessarily a part of this country.” Perhaps because his characters defy stereotypes, Dickey’s fiction has crossed the color line to appeal to readers beyond that community. Creating them is a challenge that yields joy, he said, and it derives from his understanding of people. “People are people. We’re very complicated, but we’re not as different as people want to make us,” he said. “Everybody wants to be happy in their own way — robbing a bank or having a baby or getting their car fixed. I just create something that gets in the way.” As Dickey’s career (and his book sales) have advanced over the past 11 years, so has his ambition to create new characters and stories in places unfamiliar to him. In creating his stories and characters, he often travels to the places he writes about. For “Sleeping with Strangers,” he spent three months in London, where he said he was “totally removed from the American experience.” It gave him insights into writing about the many black people who live there and have roots in Africa, and whose “eyes are not colored or influenced by the American experience.” More recently he has stretched his writing and imagination, entering the world of comic-book writing after Marvel Comics invited him to create a six-issue series about the marriage of Black Panther and Storm (the X-Men character that Halle Berry portrayed in the movie). Marvel printed the first issues in 2006. “There’s a lot more that I can do with Storm and those guys, because, you know — they’re superheroes,” said Dickey, adding that comic books comprised most of his reading material while growing up. “It was really fun having characters that can do stuff like that — can do a triple flip off a building and land on his feet.” Dickey has made a few bucks from his writing, but that is not the only benefit of his career. “There is a lot of personal growth,” he said, “because you learn more about the world and about yourself. His next book, “Waking with the Enemies,” is scheduled for release on Aug. 7. Contact the writer at ekramer@leoweekly.com