This story originally appeared in the winter 2016 Harker Magazine.
By Jared Scott Tesler
Since he was a little boy, Colin Dickey MS ’91 had always dreamed of becoming an architect. But while at Harker’s middle school – inspired by highly respected and beloved English teachers, including the late Sylvia Harp – he had a change of heart.
“Harker nurtured a kind of creative rigor that I appreciate – not just memorizing and repeating information but getting us to think critically and to go beyond received truths,” Dickey said. “At some point, I realized that one could easier build things out of words than out of bricks and wood.”
And so, at 12 years old, while most boys his age were playing sports or video games, he spent his after-school hours reading books and writing stories on his mother’s word processor. With the nearby labyrinth-like Winchester Mystery House – designed and built by Sarah Winchester, widow of gun magnate William Wirt Winchester, and said to be haunted by ghosts – serving as his muse, his early interest in architecture would creep its way into his latest and greatest passion.
Fast-forward 25 years. Dickey holds a Master of Fine Arts in critical studies, as well as a doctorate in comparative literature, and is an associate professor of creative writing at National University. He is the co-editor of “The Morbid Anatomy Anthology” and author of three supernatural nonfiction books, including his most recent, “Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places,” which The New York Times Book Review called “a lively assemblage and smart analysis of dozens of haunting stories … absorbing … [and] intellectually intriguing.” The book also was lauded by the Los Angeles Times, Men’s Journal, Publishers Weekly, The Seattle Times and The Wall Street Journal.
Dickey also has received positive feedback from readers.
“Some random person on the Internet told me the other day that my latest book was helping her get through a difficult time, and I was honored and humbled to have had that kind of impact,” he said.
In writing “Ghostland,” which is “not overtly pro or anti any belief in the supernatural,” Dickey said his focus was on uncovering the answers to a series of questions: “Why do certain buildings come to be seen as haunted? Is there something architecturally about these spaces that may lend them an aura of the ghostly? Why do we tell some ghost stories and not others? Is there something to be learned about the way we tell ghost stories, something that reflects deeper anxieties, hopes and fears?” While some may be skeptical or even afraid of this particular genre, the author hopes everyone will be a part of the conversation.
Between books, Dickey carves out time as a guest speaker, and is a frequent contributor to the Los Angeles Review of Books and Lapham’s Quarterly. In his post at National University, he is primarily tasked with “sculpting and guiding a new generation of voices” – a privilege and a duty he takes very seriously.
“Most of my students come to me with a great deal of raw talent. My job is to act as a sounding board, giving them the space to adapt and refine those voices,” Dickey said. “One of the main pieces of advice I find myself giving is to simply write – and read. Students, even writers, don’t read as much or as widely as they should.”
For information on Dickey’s books, upcoming appearances and more, visit colindickey. com. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @colindickey.