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Longtime Knoxville writer Jim Dykes among honorees at Writers Hall of Fame event

October 15th, 2011 1:35 pm by Associated Press

Friends of Literacy will induct five local writers into the East Tennessee Writers Hall of Fame at its annual banquet on Thursday, Oct. 20. This marks the eighth year the nonprofit has honored writers for their contributions to local culture and history.

This year's inductees are:

* Lifetime Achievement: Jim Dykes, former reporter and columnist for the Maryville Daily Times, The Knoxville Journal and The Knoxville News Sentinel

* Fiction: UT professor Michael Knight, whose book "The Typist" was recently named to Oprah's summer reading list

* Non-fiction: Don Williams, former columnist and current editor of New Millennium Writings

* Poetry: Linda Parsons Marion, author of three poetry collections

* Social Media: Katie Allison Granju, who was just named one of the "15 Most Powerful Moms in Social Media" by Working Mother Magazine.

This year's keynote speaker is Inky Johnson a former UT football player. Johnson suffered a serious injury to his arm in 2006 while playing against Air Force. His new book, "Inky: An Amazing Story of Faith and Perseverance," details how he persevered through his poverty-stricken upbringing, and the life-threatening injury that ultimately paralyzed his right arm and ended his football career.

It is easy to understand why Jim Dykes is known as an East Tennessee original: He speaks the language.

He was born in his grandfather's house — actually, in his grandfather's bed — just up the road from where he lives in Rockford. And, his friends say, he is just enough off plumb with the world axis to be classified a bona fide character rather than a clear and present danger to himself or others.

Dykes, 78, will be honored along with four other regional writers Thursday, Oct. 20, as inductees into the Friends of Literacy's East Tennessee Writers Hall of Fame. Inky Johnson, former University of Tennessee football player and author, is keynote speaker.

Dykes will receive the Lifetime Achievement Award for his years as a newspaper reporter for The Maryville Daily Times, the Knoxville News Sentinel and as a columnist for the defunct Knoxville Journal.

For Dykes the journalist, there were no sacred cows. In fact nothing in life was sacred or safe from his pen. He loved to serve up fricassee of politician, particularly in his daily "Without a Paddle" column for the Journal.

After dropping out of high school, Dykes joined the Navy and spent time off the coast of Korea on a U.S. destroyer during the Korean War. He earned his Graduate Equivalency Diploma while in the Navy.

Back home, he entered the University of Tennessee where he met his future wife, the former Peggy Elaine Booker, and Johnny Majors, who says Dykes is responsible for making him an All-American (UT tailback, 1956).

Dykes explains in typical fashion: "I couldn't tackle the little (expletive deleted). He'd tap dance all over my ankles, spin around inside my arms 'till there was no skin left and then butt me in the face until it was a bloody mess. Then he'd run off down field."

Majors, Dykes' friend of long standing, laughs and agrees. Dykes is also a regular at Majors' by-invitation-only monthly luncheons,

Dykes broke into the newsroom of the Maryville Daily Times in 1965, then had stints with the News Sentinel (1967-1980) and the late Knoxville Journal.

Dean Stone, Dykes' first editor, said he saw in the beginning that Dykes had the right stuff, even if he was a little odd.

"Dykes used to send me notes. He smoked Pall Malls then, and he'd get a carton of them. He'd tear open the carton and he'd just write the note on the inside of the carton and send it to me.

"He has outstanding ability to write and a great sense of humor. But sometimes he gets ahead of his reader on the humor. But he is good at it," says Stone, 87, who continues as editor of The Maryville Daily Times.

Dykes was as well known for his antics around the newsroom as he was for skewering elected officials.

"One of my favorite memories has to do with the newspaper's dress code," retired News Sentinel writer and editor Lois Reagan Thomas, a longtime friend of Dykes, recalls. "I guess it was in the '70s that the powers-that-be decreed that male reporters should wear ties.

"Most complied, but Jim was at work in his knit shirt when City Editor Homer Clonts sidled over to him, and said, "Jim, I don't want to see you at work tomorrow unless you're wearing a tie."

"Jim raised his eyebrows and answered softly, "OK, Homer." The next morning, Jim came in to work, and took off his sports jacket.

Friends of Literacy Hall of Fame Dinner

When: 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 20

Where: Crown Plaza Knoxville

Tickets: $100; table sponsorships are still available

To reserve or for info: 865-594-1507 or www.friendsofliteracy.org

"Yep, he had on a tie, but his chest was bare except for the tattoos. I think poor Homer just put his head down on his desk in defeat."While at the Journal and before it "was sold out from under me," Dykes worked for the Tennessee Valley Authority, editing its "Inside TVA," a bi-weekly publication for its employees.

A year ago, Dykes underwent surgery for cancer of the esophagus and stomach. He is under hospice care now at his sprawling home on Roddy Branch Road.

Despite weight loss, Dykes is fighting on in a back room of "Condorhurst," the name he gave the home he and Peggy built more than 30 years ago around a log structure and then expanded to several rooms.

Peg died in 2005, but the now unattended flower gardens and a water fountain in the front are evidence of her gentle touch. She was a speech therapist in Maryville City Schools and loved her gardens.

Rooms are filled with Dykes' very accomplished wood carvings of birds, ducks and fish. His bedroom is littered with his books, dogs and guns.

An overhead exercise device is festooned with one-size-fits-all baseball caps, one of his two trademarks. He is seldom seen in public without a hat. And his signature wild eyebrows, flaring to a point, are still bushy enough to conceal a small animal. He delights in both the eyebrows and the hats.

"He was, and is, a master of words and ideas," says Thomas. "Jim is one of the most entertaining, interesting, and complex individuals I've ever known."

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