By Gina Malone
When Thomas Wolfe wrote Look Homeward, Angel, he drew on his own past growing up in Asheville. Familiar stories, places and people were woven into the richly wrought novel that sought to capture not just Asheville in the early 1900s but all of America. Wolfe’s mother, Julia, provided the model for one of the most memorable women in literature–Eliza Gant, a feisty little mountain woman notable for her shrewd real estate dealings, her trials with a husband who drank and her proprietorship of the Dixieland boardinghouse.
To celebrate what would have been Julia’s 158th birthday, the Thomas Wolfe Memorial will throw a party for her on Saturday, February 17, from 3–5 p.m. “This is a brand-new event,” says historic site manager Tom Muir, “inspired by news clippings reporting the open houses held in the 1940s for Julia by the Wolfe family and friends. There is no doubt that if it were possible at age 158, Julia Wolfe would be here telling her story to visitors at her home.”
The program will include readings from interviews of Julia at her home in the 1940s and treats in the home’s dining room. The open houses during the last years of her life drew family, friends and fans of her son’s work. “Always the entertainer and conversationalist,” Muir says, “Julia enjoyed the company and the spotlight.” Born in 1860, she lived to be 85 years old, outliving four of her eight children, including Thomas, who died in 1938. Those unable to attend can help decorate the house with fl owers and cards, just as Julia would have, by sending them, in the week before the event, to The Thomas Wolfe Memorial, 52 North Market Street, Asheville, NC, 28801.
Muir has managed the Wolfe Memorial since 2013. Last year, more than 21,000 people from all over the world visited the home on Spruce Street and the visitor center where many of Wolfe’s belongings are displayed. “Working with an enthusiastic group of volunteers each year,” Muir says, “the staff continues to bring new programs to the site and to increase local awareness of the value of maintaining this important cultural attraction in downtown Asheville.”
The Thomas Wolfe Memorial is located at 52 North Market Street in downtown Asheville. Reservations will be required, and limited to 25 people, with a suggested donation of $10. For reservations, contact Kayla Seay at 828.253.8304. The Memorial, in partnership with the Wilma Dykeman Legacy, is also hosting monthly Thomas Wolfe Book Clubs. The next will be held on Thursday, February 8, at 5:30 p.m. with a discussion of Wolfe’s short story, The Hollow Men. To learn more, visit wolfememorial.com.