By Gina Malone
In its sixth year, the Thomas Wolfe Short Story Book Club, presented by the Wilma Dykeman Legacy and the Thomas Wolfe Memorial State Historic Site, has become an Asheville literary tradition. This four-month event explores acclaimed, but often overlooked, short stories of Asheville’s most famous literary son in a series of discussions held the second Thursday of each month from 5:30–7 p.m. at the Wolfe Memorial. Led by community educators and authors, the series is free and open to the public.
The series begins on January 9 with Catherine Frank, executive director of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, leading a discussion of Wolfe’s “No Door,” a story, she says, that “weaves the Asheville (Altamont), Chapel Hill (Pulpit Hill) and Brooklyn years of his novels together and illustrates his lust for language and imagery and his hope and search for life’s secrets.”
Like many readers, Frank discovered Wolfe’s writing as a teenager. “My mother took me to the Old Kentucky Home as part of a family trip when I was about 15,” she says. “She bought me a copy of Look Homeward, Angel, and I remember that a boring trip suddenly became a door into a world full of feeling and experiences both like and unlike the world I lived in.”
Brandon Johnson, assistant registrar and instructor of English at Mars Hill University, will guide the discussion of “The Four Lost Men” on February 13. “The Thomas Wolfe Short Story Book Club is an occasion that allows people to do something essential in today’s society: talk, but more importantly, listen,” Johnson says. “These events bring together people of various ages, experiences and backgrounds to talk about that reading.”
Johnson once made a point of reading Look Homeward, Angel each year and recalls that he took it along on his honeymoon. “It is my favorite book, period,” he says. “Wolfe’s work allows us to examine the events and views of our own time against the past, and it strives always to present us our own lives through new lenses.”
Part of Wolfe’s legacy, Frank says, is inspiring other regional writers “to know that the place that we all call home is worth writing about, that small towns and families and youthful curiosity and confusion are the material of art; we can all gain something from going to him as a source. He gives us a whole world on his pages, a world that I still feel when I walk the streets of Asheville and read the news of our current struggles with how to make a just and equitable economy based on tourism or how we honestly understand and learn from our community’s past.”
Other stories selected for the series are “For Professional Appearance” presented in March by Dan Clare, A.C. Reynolds High School English teacher, and Ana Clare, member of the Thomas Wolfe Memorial Advisory Committee; and “Oktoberfest” in April, with author Ellen Brown (John Apperson’s Lake George) facilitating.
To learn more, visit WilmaDykemanLegacy.org. The Thomas Wolfe Memorial State Historic Site is located at 52 North Market Street in downtown Asheville. Stories discussed during the series may be found in The Complete Short Stories of Thomas Wolfe, available at the Thomas Wolfe Memorial and at local bookstores.