“For strange and peculiar polestar it was that led Willard Dykeman and Bonnie Cole to meet in this time and bring to their union the religion of nature and the philosophy of loneliness.” This is how author Wilma Dykeman, an Asheville native, describes her parents in the beginning of her memoir, Family of Earth: A Southern Mountain Childhood.
The book was discovered in 2006, following Dykeman’s death, though she had written it in the 1940s. She was then in her 20s and her first novel — set in the Beaverdam Valley where she grew up — was poorly received. Nonfiction was Dykeman’s foray back to writing, but as her son, Jim Stokely, writes in the preface, “A memoir from an unknown Southern mountain female 20-something never had a chance with New York publishers.”
Fortunately, Dykeman made a mark with her environmental work, The French Broad, and advocated for the protection of the French Broad River. The 17-mile greenway and park system along that river in Asheville is named for the author.
Dykeman’s novels include The Tall Woman, The Far Family and Return the Innocent Earth. Though predating those books, Family of Earth is precise and vivid. It shows Dykeman’s mastery of language, even at the start of her career, and also shares a unique glimpse into an Asheville of nearly 100 years ago.
Stokely presents Family of Earth at Malaprop’s on Friday, Sept. 16, at 7 p.m. Free. malaprops.com