Conservation Events Heritage

Wilma Dykeman, the Rachel Carson of the Mountains

The Environmental Legacy of Wilma Dykeman

Wilma Dykeman, 1955. Courtesy of Jim Stokely

The Center for Cultural Preservation and the Wilma Dykeman Legacy will partner to present a program, The Savior of the French Broad River: Wilma Dykeman, on Thursday, February 23, at 7 p.m., at the Blue Ridge Community College in Hendersonville.

Jim Stokely, Dykeman’s son and founder of the Legacy, will present a DVD about his mother’s life told in her own words, a PowerPoint presentation about her life as well as writings and readings from her work. A question and answer time will follow. Dykeman’s published works include The French Broad (1955), The Tall Woman (1962) and Neither Black Nor White, co-written with her husband James in 1957.

Born in Asheville, Stokely grew up in Newport, TN. After retiring from Sylvania in Massachusetts, he and wife Anne moved back to Asheville in 2011, where they founded the Wilma Dykeman Legacy, “a public charity whose mission is to sustain Wilma’s core values of environmental integrity, social justice and the power of the written and spoken word,” Stokely says.

The Legacy partners with other area nonprofits to produce workshops, lectures and programs that further the values Dykeman held and wrote about in her books, both fiction and nonfiction. “We feel that the work of the Legacy is of utmost importance today,” Stokely says, “because of our urgent needs for environmental sensitivity, civil debate and racial and ethnic justice with an emphasis on African-Americans, Latinos and poor white southern mountaineers.”

The French Broad was Dykeman’s first book and received the first presentation of the Thomas Wolfe Memorial Literary Award. Published seven years before Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, it is widely credited for bringing needed attention to the polluted state of the French Broad as well as to its tributary, the Pigeon River, that led to the cleanup of both. “It broke new ground,” Stokely says, “in the use of oral history as well as documentary history, and it was ground breaking in its rethinking of environmentalism as a boon to economic development.”

Before the publication of this book, a prevailing thought was that environmentalism was counter-productive to economic viability. In her book, Dykeman argued, “that clean water and its environs would attract not only fishermen, hunters and nature lovers, but also industries whose executives and workers would want to live in the locale, and which might benefit from clean water,” Stokely says. “The brewing industry in and around Asheville, including the recent additions of New Belgium and Sierra Nevada, is a perfect example of this dynamic.”

The Center for Cultural Preservation seeks to preserve cultural treasures through oral histories, films, books and educational programs. Volunteers interested in assisting with these projects are welcome.

Tickets for the program are $5. For information about this and other Center for Cultural Preservation programs or to register online, see saveculture.org or call 828.692.8062. To learn more about supporting the Wilma Dykeman Legacy, visit wilmadykemanlegacy.org.

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