He was born in Atlanta, Georgia, to a lawyer, Eugene Dickey, and his wife, Maibelle Swift Dickey. He attended North Fulton High School in Buckhead, an Atlanta suburb.
Dickey served in the U.S. army in the Second World War, and in the U.S. Air force during the Korean war. Between the wars, he attended Vanderbilt University, graduating with degrees in English and Philosophy, as well as achieving a minor in astronomy. In November 1948, he married Marries Maxine Syerson, and his son, Christopher, was born three years later.
His first book, Into the Stone, was published in 1962.
His popularity exploded after the film version of his novel Deliverance, starring Burt Reynolds, was released in 1970.
The poet was invited to read his poem 'The Strength of Fields' at President Jimmy Carter's inauguration in 1977.
With the possible exception of Anne Sexton or Sylvia Plath, for many years there was no greater poet cherished by American cultural society, and indeed the critical acclaim was quite immense and certainly impressive. Occasionally, he has been charged with what amounts to purgery, making up (or imagining) for his poetry events that certainly did not happen. He was complicit in the creation of his own cult of personality, much like great political leaders, such as Hitler and Stalin did, and James Dickey was helped by his evidently strong rhetorical skills and high oration quality.
James Dickey on died on the 19th of January, 1997, four days after his last class at the University of South Carolina, where he'd been teaching. Dickey spent a few years in and out of hospital, afflicted with first jaundice and later fibrosis of the lungs.