By Gina Malone
The lives and works of five authors—Olive Tilford Dargan, Ellen Glasgow, Zora Neale Hurston, Julia Peterkin and Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings—will be explored in coming months in a free series of lectures and films titled Female Authors Writing America Between the World Wars. Presented by the Wilma Dykeman Legacy (WDL), with funding from the North Carolina Humanities Council, events will be held at the West Asheville Library beginning in August and running through December.
Jim Stokely, WDL president, says the historical marker about Dargan in West Asheville where she lived many years set him to thinking about female authors of the 1920s and 1930s who likely faced gender discrimination when they were writing, as Dykeman, born in 1920, would later.
Dr. Kathy Ackerman, dean of arts and sciences at Isothermal Community College, has been fascinated by Dargan since discovering her best-known work, Call Home the Heart, in graduate school. “I had read plenty of southern literature,” she says, “but Dargan’s novel (published under the pseudonym Fielding Burke) was the first Appalachian novel I had read.”
Though not widely read today, Dargan’s book is still relevant, Ackerman says. “She believed, radically, that every human deserves the dignity of an education, a full stomach and meaningful work… A woman, a leftist and an Appalachian writer who wanted to elevate rather than stereotype her people, she was doomed to obscurity.” Ackerman’s lecture will be held Thursday, October 12.
On Thursday, September 14, Dr. Susan Millar Williams, professor of English at Trident Technical College, will speak on Peterkin, the first southerner to win a Pulitzer Prize in 1929 for her novel Scarlet Sister Mary. “The story of a woman who learns to live for herself instead of for a man,” Williams says, “it turned 19th-century stereotypes of the ‘good woman’ upside down and inside out.”
Peterkin was a white South Carolinian and plantation owner. “She has been hailed as an authority on Gullah life,” says Williams, “and denounced as an outsider who appropriated stories that were not hers to tell.” A film, Cheating the Stillness: The World of Julia Peterkin, will be shown Thursday, September 7. Other events and dates are as follows: lecture on Glasgow and her novel Barren Ground, Thursday, August 10; the film, Creative Fire: The Life of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, Wednesday, November 8; lecture on Rawlings and her memoir, Cross Creek, Thursday, November 9; the film, Zora’s Roots: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston, Thursday, December 7; and a lecture on Hurston and her autobiography, Dust Tracks on a Road, Thursday, December 14. All events begin at 5:30 p.m. This series, says Williams, “raises important questions about what it meant to be American, female and willing to speak out during a period when attitudes and values were evolving at lightning speed.”
Ackerman adds, “The present era of our history badly needs the quiet wisdom and loud compassion these women have to share.”
To learn more or to become a member of the Wilma Dykeman Legacy, visit wilmadykemanlegacy.org. The West Asheville Public Library is located at 942 Haywood Road.