Carrie J. Boden
Melvin Dixon was born on May 29, 1950, in Stamford, Connecticut, to his father Handy, an independent painter and contractor, and his mother Jessie, a nurse. Handy and Jessie moved to Stamford from the Carolinas in the late 1940s. As a child, Dixon made many trips back to the South with his family. It was during these excursions down-home that Dixon experienced Jim Crow laws. The family would set out on the fifteen-hour drive with food packed because they were unable to stop and eat at restaurants (Peterson 42). Both the cultural climate and the physical landscape of the South influenced Dixon’s sense of place, a theme that runs through virtually all of Dixon’s writing and literary criticism. His father’s hometown of Pee Dee, North Carolina, is the principal setting in his first novel, Trouble the Water (1989). Pee Dee, and the theme of returning to the South, is also invoked in Change of Territory (1983), a collection of poems that investigates what Dixon refers to as the “twin demons of history and memory” (“The Black Writer’s Use of Memory” 26). Writers such as James Baldwin, Robert Hayden, Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, Jay Wright, and Michael S. Harper heavily influenced Dixon. Dixon first discovered Baldwin in his teens. Dixon recounts, “The first term paper I wrote in junior high school was called ‘Baldwin’s Theme of Homosexuality.’ …I didn’t understand the impact Baldwin would have on me, but I knew he interested me” (Peterson 42). Dixon spent most of his career both paying homage to and engaging in literary conversation with the writers and works that influenced him.
Dixon had an expansive career as a poet, scholar, novelist, translator, and critic. Early in his academic career, Dixon graduated from Wesleyan in 1971 with a double major in English and theater. He earned an M.A. in 1973 and a Ph.D. in