For those who know the name Wilma Dykeman but don’t know much about one of Asheville’s most famous daughters, an upcoming lecture series will explore her life as an historian, journalist, environmentalist, teacher, novelist and traveler.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for us to really celebrate someone who maybe doesn’t have the profile of Charles Frazier or Ron Rash, but, to me, did so much to capture the spirit of this place,” says Catherine Frank, who serves as executive director of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at UNC Asheville. The institute will be hosting the free lecture series every Sunday at 3 p.m. at the UNCA Reuter Center beginning Oct. 16.
Each lecture, Frank says, will last a little more than an hour and will include an opportunity for a discussion and question-and-answer session about the many facets of Dykeman’s life.
During her lifetime, Dykeman penned nearly 20 books, writing both fiction and nonfiction. Published in 1955, “The French Broad” provides an account of how Western North Carolina was shaped by the river of the same name and warned readers of pollution. Dykeman is also known for her novel “The Tall Woman” and her account of Southern race relations in the work she wrote with her husband entitled, “Neither Black Nor White.”
She also wrote pieces for magazines such as New York Times Magazine and The Nation (at the time the magazine was known simply as Nation).
Her passion for environmental concerns would one day put her name on a plan known as The Wilma Dykeman Riverway. In the plan presented by RiverLink, it reads “We named this RiverWay after Wilma Dykeman because she is a native daughter and understood, nearly a decade before Rachel Carson wrote The Silent Spring, that there must be balance between growth and environmental responsibility to maintain a sustainable community. Wilma understood that the environment deserves a line item on every balance sheet to record the true and accurate cost of development.”
Dykeman died in December 2006 in Asheville, N.C. She was 86. But Dykeman’s memory lives on, Frank says, through the author’s writing and activism.
“Some people may know ‘The French Broad’ or they may know ‘The Tall Woman,’ but this will really give them an opportunity to know more,” Frank says.
The full schedule of the lecture series can be found below.
• Sept. 15: “Wilma Dykeman as Historian,” with Dan Pierce, UNC Asheville chair and professor of history.
Dykeman was Tennessee’s official State Historian for more than 20 years and was the author of Tennessee: A Bicentennial History, as well as a historical fiction and biography.
• September 29: “Wilma Dykeman as Journalist,” with Darin Waters, UNC Asheville visiting assistant professor of history.
Dykeman’s Neither Black Nor White (co-authored by her husband, James Stokely) won the 1957 Sidney Hillman award as best book of the year on world peace, race relations or civil liberties. She wrote more than 20 feature articles for leading national magazines during the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s.
• October 6: “Wilma Dykeman as Environmentalist,” with Viki Rouse, Walters State Community College associate professor of English.
This talk will examine Dykeman’s public speaking and writing on environmental themes and her fight against river pollution.
• October 20: “Wilma Dykeman as Teacher,” with Martha Gill, a retired English teacher and former attendee of the Stokely Institute.
Dykeman was a professor of Appalachian literature and creative writing at the University of Tennessee for 21 years, and founder of the James R. Stokely Institute for Liberal Arts Education at UT—an institute for high school teachers.
• November 3: “Wilma Dykeman as Novelist,” with Jim Cole Overholt, a retired teacher and former director of the Regional Appalachian Center at the Children’s Museum of Oak Ridge, where Dykeman served as consultant. This talk will focus on Dykeman’s novels, The Tall Woman, its sequel, The Far Family, and her last published novel, Return the Innocent Earth.
• November 10: “Wilma Dykeman as Traveler,” with writer Jim Stokely.
One of Dykeman’s sons, Stokely will talk about where she traveled and why she visited those places, and share from her travel journals.
To find out more information about the life of Wilma Dykeman, visit the Wilma Dykeman collection at the Ramsey Library Special Collections room at UNCA.
Caitlin Byrd can be reached at email@example.com or 251-1333, ext. 140.