Wilma Dykeman A Celebration
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A Celebration

Remembering and celebrating the life of Wilma Dykeman

Author, speaker, historian, educator, environmentalist

May 20, 1920 - December 22, 2006

June 13, 2007


Diana Wortham Theater

Asheville, North Carolina

All are welcome

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2 1 dyk_p_002 "She wrote about the environment before Rachel Carson, and about race relations before the 1960 sit-ins that started the civil rights movement. And her novel about a strong mountain woman who holds a community together was published a year before The Feminine Mystique."

Martha Waggoner The Associated Press Raleigh News and Observer Sept. 21, 1999

"Dykeman has been consistently ahead of her time, seeking subjects and perspectives she has found to be notoriously neglected, and has been constantly willing to employ new literary genres...".

Rob Neufeld Asheville Citizen-Times July 29, 2001

2007 by Dykeman C. Stokely, James R. Stokely, and Anne Callison Stokely


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A Celebration

Opening Remarks: Doug Orr, President Emeritus,   Warren Wilson College

Video of Wilma Dykeman's Life

Eulogy: Dan Matthew's, Rector Emeritus of Trinity Parish in New York City

Music: Laura Boosinger

Remarks: Fred Chappell

Remarks: John Ehle

Music: Laura Boosinger

Remarks: Sharyn McCrumb

Remarks: Robert Morgan

Music: Laura Boosinger

Remarks: Dianne Tuttle

Closing Remarks: Doug Orr

Refreshments will be provided by Laurey's Catering in the indoor lobby of the theater directly following the program.

Displays of archival materials describing Wilma Dykeman's relationship to the University of North Carolina at Asheville, Berea College, the University of Tennessee, and Warren Wilson College may be viewed in the lobby.

Wilma Dykeman's books are for sale in the lobby. A portion of the proceeds will go to the Diana Wortham Theater.

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2 1 dyk_p_004 The Reverend Dr. Daniel P. Matthews

Dan Matthews is the Rector Emeritus of Trinity Church - St. Paul's Chapel in New York City. Acclaimed for his creative leadership of Wall Street's landmark parish with its large global and urban ministry, Dr. Matthews is also recognized for his leadership in interfaith television. Located directly across from the World Trade Center site, St. Paul's Chapel, part of the Parish of Trinity Church, was home to an extraordinary eight-month volunteer relief effort after terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001.

Laura Boosinger

Laura Boosinger is a consummate folk musician and entertainer whose career has spanned nearly two decades of concert performances, workshops and residencies throughout the eastern United States. Having graduated from Warren Wilson College (Swannanoa, NC) with a degree in traditional music and old-time banjo, Laura has shared her knowledge and love of the music and culture of the southern region with a wide range of audiences. Laura continues to teach all ages about the importance of North Carolina culture, presenting shaped-note workshops, school residencies and banjo classes to adults who spend their summer vacation with other like-minded enthusiasts of old-time music.

Fred Chappell

Fred Chappell was born on a farm near Canton, North Carolina. He attended Duke University and began writing fiction as well as poetry; four novels later, Dagon won the best foreign book award from the Academie Française. Thus began a long and stellar career that has produced almost thirty volumes of poetry and fiction. In 1997, Chappell's remarkable versatility and skill earned him the title of North Carolina Poet Laureate. Chappell's excellence in teaching at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro was recognized by the statewide O. Max Gardner Award.

John Ehle

The oldest of five children, John Ehle was raised in Asheville. Ehle earned his B.A. and M.A. at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he also taught for ten years. John Ehle is the author of seventeen books, eleven fiction and six nonfiction. As a member of Governor Terry Sanford's staff in the 1960's, he was the "idea man" and an integral part of the creation of the North Carolina School of the Arts and the Governor's School. He went on to serve with the White House Group for Domestic Affairs and on the First National Council for Humanities. Ehle also helped start the North Carolina Film Board, the North Carolina Institute of Outdoor Drama, the North Carolina Advancement School and the North Carolina School of Science and Math.   

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2 1 dyk_p_005 Sharyn McCrumb

Sharyn McCrumb's award winning novels celebrating the history and folk-lore of Appalachia have received scholarly acclaim and have been ranked on the New York Times bestseller lists. McCrumb's great-grandfathers were circuit preachers in North Carolina's Smokey Mountains a hundred years ago, riding horseback over the ridges to preach in a different community each week. McCrumb is a graduate of the University of North Carolina, and holds an M.A. in English from Virginia Tech.

Robert Morgan

Robert Morgan was born in Hendersonville, North Carolina and grew up on the family farm in the Green River valley of the Blue Ridge Mountains. He started his college years in engineering and applied mathematics at North Carolina State University, but transferred to UNC-Chapel Hill and graduated with a B.A. in English. He then received a Master of Fine Arts degree from UNC-Greensboro. He has published a score of poetry volumes, novels, and short story collections. His novel Gap Creek was a selection of the Oprah Book Club and a New York Times bestseller. Morgan taught English for over twenty years at Cornell University, and has been a visiting writer and professor at various North Carolina colleges.

Dianne Tuttle

Dianne Tuttle is a former English teacher, instructional specialist and writing consultant for the N.C. State Department of Public Instruction. A close friend of Wilma's, she speaks at her request.

Douglas M. Orr, Jr.

Doug Orr received a bachelor of arts degree from Davidson College, and master of business administration and doctorate degrees from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. From 1968 to 1991, he taught geography and served in leadership roles at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. From 1991-2006, he served as President of Warren Wilson College. He was the principle planner for Charlotte's University City, an award-winning mixed use project. Orr's involvement on professional and civic boards includes the National Council of Independent Colleges and the National Commission on the Status of Women in Higher Education.

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2 1 dyk_p_006 "An only child, growing up in a little wooded cove outside Asheville, North Carolina, I suppose my life would have been described as 'isolated.' Isolated from what? There was the life in all the forest around me and the stream that gathered in the roots of trees and under grey ledges and mossy banks where I played and plunged past our home on its way to the distant river—and, as my parents told me—eventually to the great waters of the world."

Wilma Dykeman

"[perhaps]...because my mother, Bonnie Cole came of a family whose roots have been in the French Broad hills for over a century and a half, and because my father, Willard Dykeman, was drawn in middle life from New York state to make a new home in the French Broad country, ...something of both the ancient awareness and the new-found delight have fused in my perception of this native region."

Wilma Dykeman in The French Broad

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2 1 dyk_p_007 Throughout her career as an author, speaker, historian, educator, and environmentalist, Wilma Dykeman wrote 18 works of fiction and non-fiction, gave hundreds of inspirational speeches, held the office of Tennessee State Historian for 22 years, taught and served as a trustee at multiple colleges, worked tirelessly for respect and realism in the public perception of the southern mountain people, and was a pioneer in bringing national attention to civil rights, women's issues, and environmental imperatives.

She also raised two sons, wrote under her maiden name long before the practice became common, partnered with her husband James Stokely in a 36-year marriage until his death from a heart attack in 1977, remained a devoted daughter and companion to her mother until Bonnie's death in 1992, and worked as a civic leader in eastern Tennessee and western North Carolina.

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2 1 dyk_p_008 "Your blood and brain absorbed that tributary so completely in fact and imagination that the book would not have been misnamed, 'Hey Feller, How Does It Feel to be a River?'"

Carl Sandburg in letter to Wilma Dykeman, January 1956

"Because, just as the river belongs to no one, it belongs to everyone—and everyone is held accountable for its health and condition."

Wilma Dykeman in The French Broad

Wilma Dykeman describes the French Broad as "a river and a watershed and a way of life where day-before-yesterday and day-after-tomorrow exist in odd and fascinating harmony." In this highly acclaimed volume, originally published in the Rivers of America series, Dykeman's vivid portrait of the French Broad country encompasses, first, the nation's oldest mountains on whose slopes the river begins, with their diverse plant and animal life. Here, most of all, are the richly varied people - the Cherokee for whom the river was "a source of sustenance, spiritual power, and pleasure," and the pioneer settlers, who made "every home its own community" and who built their vital mills and forges on the rivers tributaries.

The French Broad was published in 1955, seven years before Rachel Carson published Silent Spring, and Dykeman's publisher requested that she remove her chapter about the pollution of the river. Dykeman firmly refused to do so, and instead named the chapter "Who Killed the French Broad?" to entice readers. She received more comments about that chapter over the years than any other part of the book. Karen Cragnolin, executive director of the non-profit organization RiverLink, has credited Dykeman with awakening not just the region, but the nation, to the intrinsic value of our natural resources like water and the mountains.

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2 1 dyk_p_009 Dykeman's nonfiction book Neither Black Nor White, written with James Stokely and published in 1957, won the Sidney Hillman Award for the best book of the year on civil liberties, race relations, or world peace. Believing that the greatest service to the South and the nation in the mid-1950's lay in honest praise and constructive criticism springing from affectionate concern for the region, Wilma Dykeman and James Stokely produced this illuminating personal narrative of the South. Following the 1954 Supreme Court decision ruling against separate but equal schools, Dykeman and Stokely traveled through thirteen states to collect this kaleidoscopic report on Southern views.

"...There were so many articles being written—people came down—those three-week experts talked to the same people. They went to Atlanta; they went to Charleston; sometimes they ventured to Richmond or to Houston—but they all talked to the same people; they all came with their own stereotype and they went back and they wrote about it. We didn't recognize this South; it was just their South...We let the South speak for itself; it had a multitude of voices."

Wilma Dykeman in an interview with Richard Marius, 1989

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2 1 dyk_p_010 Wilma Dykeman dedicated her novel The Tall Woman to her mother, Bonnie Cole Dykeman.

[Wilma Dykeman speaking of what motivated her to write The Tall Woman]:

"...The unknown person. It is the unknown person who is not famous, who doesn't become well-known, who influences so much of life. [In writing The French Broad] I had talked with wonderful women in the mountains; and I had talked with men who mothers and whose wives had meant so much to the life of the region. Who had ever heard of Mrs. Daniel Boone, or Mrs. Davy Crockett, or those other frontier people? ...And then as [my husband and I] went across the South [researching Neither Black Nor White in 1957], one of the things that impressed me most were those little people who risked so much. I know women who were divorced by their husbands because they supported a hospital for crippled children that admitted black children...I know a minister in a small town in Mississippi who made the most simple statements of Christianity about race one morning. He...lost his pulpit. His name was never in the papers. He was never celebrated...Out of such experiences grew my sense that I wanted to write about a woman who had never been more than fifteen miles from home, who had never been known in history, but whose life embodied all kinds of creative forces, one who really cared about the world around her—the natural world, the human world."

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2 1 dyk_p_011 "None of us is a devil. We're only ignorant and arrogant. That may be worse. We just stay here, ignorant of our past and its consequences, arrogant while the waves wash in and threaten to destroy us."

Jonathan Clayburn in Return the Innocent Earth

"Isn't it time to set up a realistic accounting system? One to include damage to air or water or land, to the health of a human being?"

Jonathan Clayburn in Return the Innocent Earth

In Return the Innocent Earth, a novel even more timely now than when it was first published in 1973, Wilma Dykeman interweaves past and present in a compelling web of memorable relationships. The Clayburn family perseveres to create a canning company in the Great Smoky Mountains of the South at the turn of the century, while in the present, Clayburn descendant, Jon, struggles against cousin and company-head Stull's amoral vision. The struggle unfolds during a crisis involving the testing of a new spray to retard growth of vegetables on the vine. 

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2 1 dyk_p_012 WILMA DYKEMAN



The Tall Woman, 1962

The Far Family, 1966

Return the Innocent Earth, 1973


The French Broad, 1955

Neither Black Nor White (with James Stokely), 1957

Seeds of Southern Change: The Life of Will Alexander (with James Stokely), 1962

Prophet of Plenty: The First Ninety Years of W.D. Weatherford, 1966

The Border States: North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia (with James Stokely), 1968

Look to this Day, 1968

Too Many People, Too Little Love: Edna Rankin McKinnon, Pioneer for Birth Control, 1974

Tennessee: A Bicentennial History, 1975

Highland Home: The People of the Great Smokies (with son, Jim Stokely), 1978

With Fire and Sword: The Battle of Kings Mountain, 1978

Tennessee (with photographs by Edward Schell), 1979

Appalachian Mountains (with son, Dykeman Stokely, photographs by Clyde H. Smith), 1980

Explorations, 1984

Tennessee Woman: An Infinite Variety, 1993

Haunting Memories: Echoes and Images of Tennessee's Past (with hand-tinted photographs by Christine P. Patterson), 1996

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