Arts Literature

Celebrate the Life, Legacy of an Asheville Luminary

(From left) DeWayne Barton, Becky Stone and Juan Holladay

By Gina Malone

The Wilma Dykeman Legacy and Black Wall Street AVL are partnering to celebrate Wilma Dykeman’s 102nd Birthday Anniversary with a party on Saturday, May 21, from 1–4 p.m. at 8 River Arts Place. Besides honoring the late Asheville-born writer and activist, this year’s event seeks to celebrate the resilience of seekers after social and environmental justice. Before her death in 2006, Dykeman authored notable works of literature including the award-winning Neither Black Nor White, a narrative of the 1950s South which she co-wrote with her husband James Stokely.

The event will be open-house style and free to the public, with refreshments served and Black retailers on hand to sell their products and services. On the hour and half-hour between 1–4, storyteller Becky Stone, visual and performing artist DeWayne Barton and musician Juan Holladay will take the stage for brief performances. “I will read a passage chosen from Dykeman’s Return the Innocent Earth,” says Stone. “I will fill out the rest of my time with stories about African Americans and life in our region.”

Between performances, a running PowerPoint on the big screen will draw attention to civil rights heroes of the 1950s and ‘60s. “The performers and images at the birthday party will remind us of social and environmental justice in special ways, and we need to pay attention,” says Jim Stokely, president of the Wilma Dykeman Legacy (WDL). “Human nature is more comfortable with the familiar, the ‘clean,’ the secure and protected. We end up spending a lot of money to achieve privacy from those who don’t look or act like us, or from neighborhoods that don’t have the resources to protect themselves from various forms of pollution.”

Stokely hopes the partnership with Black Wall Street will be a lasting one. “It seems right at this point to celebrate on an annual basis the central fact that all people, give or take very minor differences, have hopes and fears, dreams and nightmares, that are remarkably similar in the overall scheme of things,” he says.

The WDL was created to carry on the values Dykeman held dear and for which she advocated: environmental integrity, social justice and the power of the written and spoken word. Since its formation 10 years ago, accomplishments include laying the foundation for UNCA’s Wilma Dykeman Writers-in-Residence Program at her childhood home in Beaverdam. “Also, the Wilma Dykeman Greenway along the French Broad River honors her in a way that would resonate with Mother much more than a building or statue,” says Stokely.

For those who wish to carry on Dykeman’s work in meaningful ways, Stokely suggests attending a WDL event such as the forum Green Money: Nature Makes Good Business Sense (see page 68) or committing to learning about and improving environmental and social conditions wherever you are. “Or,” he added, “you could walk along the Wilma Dykeman Greenway in Asheville’s River Arts District and simply enjoy nature.”

To learn more, visit WilmaDykemanLegacy.org. 8 River Arts Place is located in Asheville’s River Arts District.

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