Celebrated author Eric Jerome Dickey dies at 59

Fans were devastated to learn of the death of the best selling author of 'Sister, Sister', and 'Before We Were Wicked'

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New York Times best-selling author Eric Jerome Dickey who penned such classics as “Sister, Sister” “Before We Were Wicked” and “Friends and Lovers” about Black life, revolutionizing storytelling in the contemporary fiction genre, has died.

News of his death first circulated on social media. He last posted to his Instagram account over the holidays.

Dickey’s passing was confirmed today in an official statement from his career-long publisher, Dutton, an imprint of Penguin Random House.

“It is with great sadness that we confirm that beloved New York Times bestselling author Eric Jerome Dickey passed away on Sunday, January 3, in Los Angeles after battling a long illness. He was 59,” the statement read.

“Eric Jerome Dickey was the author of twenty-nine novels, and his work has become a cultural touchstone over the course of his multi-decade writing career, earning him millions of dedicated readers around the world. He was the author of multiple New York Times bestselling novels, including Milk in My Coffee, CheatersChasing DestinyLiar’s GameBetween LoversThieves’ ParadiseThe Other WomanDrive Me CrazyGenevieveNaughty or NiceSleeping with StrangersWaking with EnemiesPleasureDying for Revenge, Resurrecting Midnight, Tempted by Trouble, An Accidental Affair, and Decadence. 

Recently, his book Sister, Sister was honored as one of Essence’s 50 Most Impactful Black Books of the Last 50 Years, and USA Today featured him on their list of 100 Black Novelists and Fiction Writers You Should Read. More than seven million of his books have been published worldwide.

Dickey leaves behind four daughters. Due to COVID-19, there will be no services at this time.”

Eric Jerome Dickey thegrio.com
(Credit: Getty Images)

The Memphis-born author was 59 years old.

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The prolific writer wrote over 25 books throughout the course of his career and appeared on the New York Times, Essence, and Washington Post best-selling lists. He was known for creating nuanced Black characters that dealt with love, relationships, and real-life dramas. In his later work, he moved into the noir genre, writing thrillers with characters who were ruthless but complex.

Eric Jerome Dickey thegrio.com
(Credit: Eric Jerome Dickey)

Fans began to share their remembrances of a man who challenged the depictions of Black characters and created memorable ones for an entire generation. He was lauded for inspiring others to become writers and for making the Black contemporary fiction genre a profitable one, along with writers like ‘Waiting to Exhale” author Terry McMillan.

“He was one of the first male African American fiction writers to penetrate that sister-friendly fiction market that was so popular in 90s,” said Vanesse Lloyd-Sgambati, the founder of the African-American Children’s Book Project and CEO of the Philadelphia-based Literary Media and Publishing Consultants which promotes Black authors.

“This was a market dominated by women writers but he knew how to stroke this audience. As he went up the New York Times bestseller’s list while other Black fiction authors sought out mainstream bookstores looking for that crossover audience, he insisted on doing African American bookstores for his book signings. His fans supported him across the country by lining up to purchase whatever he wrote – decade after decade.

                                                

He published “The Business of Lovers” last April which centered around a character, Brick Duquesne, who has recovered from a bout of cancer but did not tell his family about the illness. Dickey opened up to the Memphis Flyer about his writing and life during the pandemic. Though he had to cancel signings due to COVID-19 he still wanted to connect with his legion of fans.

“We’ll do Skype, Zoom, whatever we can do via social [media],” Dickey said of his altered plans. “The delivery of my books to my home hasn’t even happened. I don’t even have copies of my own books.”

Dickey shared that Duquesne’s character would resonate with others who keep information from their loved ones.

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“It’s one of those things where people go through something but don’t know how to ask for help because they don’t want to disturb the lives of others,” Dickey explained last April.

“The Son of The Son of Mr. Suleman,” his latest offering, is set to be released in April.

“From Memphis to L.A. and back again, Eric Jerome Dickey takes readers on a powerful and intense journey as Professor Pi Suleman deals with sexual assault and racism, fights being changed by his father’s truths, and also discovers untruths Gemma Buckingham has hidden for her own reasons,” he teased on his website.

The 12th Annual L.A. Times Festival Of Books - Day 2
Writer Eric Jerome Dickey poses at the 12th Annual L.A. Times Festival of Books on the U.C.L.A. campus on April 29, 2007 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Charley Gallay/Getty Images)

Dickey was born in Memphis, Tennessee, on July 7, 1961, earning a degree in computer system technology. However, he changed the course of his life and career, choosing to pursue stand-up comedy and acting before eventually writing compelling short stories and screenplays such as Cappuccino.

In 1998, the Pan-African Film Festival hosted the premiere of Cappuccino at the Magic Johnson Theater in Los Angeles.  

As the novelist explained on his website, these snippets of his imagination challenged him to fully flesh out his thoughts.

“I’d set out to do a ten-page story and it would go on for three hundred pages,” he mused.

It would take three years before Dickey got a literary agent but it wouldn’t be long until he became one of the icons of urban literature.

“And I put my foot in [the door] before they could close it,” he stated.

Additional reporting by Tonya Pendleton

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