On the afternoon of January 5, 2021, I was sitting at my dining room table. I checked Twitter and learned one of my favorite authors, New York Times bestselling author, Eric Jerome Dickey, was dead at the age of 59. I sat there in stunned silence.
I stumbled onto Dickey’s work by accident. I was a teenager deep in the throes of becoming a certified book nerd. On a fateful trip to my local library, I started my search at the new release shelves. Amongst those on display was a book titled “The Other Woman.” There was an opaque picture of a Black woman and two Black men in the background. I turned the book over and saw a photo of a smiling face of a Black man with locs, on the back.
I stood in front of that shelf, flipped to the first page, and read, “I shouldn’t have been surprised when I met my husband’s lover, but I was.”
I immediately checked the book out, rushed home and curled up in my bed. I was transported to Los Angeles and introduced to a life I could only imagine having to navigate. I devoured the book over the evening, and by the next morning, I was hunting down every Eric Jerome Dickey book published.
I had no way of knowing then this would be the start of my love affair with his work—which has spanned 19 years—and contemporary Black novels and authors like Lolita Files, Mary Monroe, Omar Tyree and so many more.
In all the years since, I’ve never stopped getting lost in the worlds he created. No matter where life took me, there wasn’t a year you wouldn’t find me stealing moments to finish one more page during the workday. I grew from a teenager into a young woman, not unlike the heroines in his novels. Navigating love, life, family and career with varying degrees of success.
You could tell by the way he wrote about Black women he loved us. He cared enough to create fully developed Black characters who weren’t just sinners or saints. Books like “Liar’s Game,” “Between Lovers,” “Chasing Destiny” and “Naughty or Nice” gave me women I would relate to, root for and never forget. His books were reminders that life is hard, and we may make difficult decisions, but there’s life on the other side of the consequences.
He also taught me a bit about empathy and influenced me as a writer before I realized storytelling would be my passion too. Books like “Thieves Paradise,” “Tempted by Trouble” and “Drive Me Crazy,” would coax me to think critically about the ways society, capitalism. and desperation, can push a person to make choices they never would have considered otherwise.
He never shied away from having his characters discuss the Black condition, and he loved seasoning his novels with $20 words that would drive me to the nearest dictionary.
In later novels like “Pleasure and Decadence,” he explored the erotic life of a Black woman as she searches for a life outside patriarchal expectations and heteronormative relationships. The character, Nia Simone, was so intriguing, it led me to reach out to him on Twitter. He was kind in his response. I thanked him for his work and for introducing me to another author, Anais Nin.
In the last few years, I’ve sensed a return to his early work. After writing cinematic, erotic thrillers filled with hitmen and women in exotic locations doing dirty and illegal business, his characters in—as the author called it— the “Dickey-verse” began to migrate back to Los Angeles. In Dickey’s books, the smog-filled urban jungle was where blue-collar desperation sometimes kicked in the doors of the dazed wealthy. Longtime readers were brought back to the Stocker street neighborhood. This time with new characters roaming the old stomping grounds of characters past.
For years now, April has signaled to me the impending arrival of the latest Eric Jerome Dickey book. April 20, 2021 will mark the release of “The Son of Mr. Suleman.” It will be the final time I get to roam around in the author’s world.
His passing leaves me with a dull ache. I’ve grown up and into his work. From reading the first sentence of a book I picked up in the library as a teenager to present, I have always been grateful for what Eric Jerome Dickey gave me. As I sat in stunned confusion at the announcement of his death, I kept reading tweets about his influence on so many. I couldn’t help but pray he knew how much we loved him and what he gave to us.