Arts Literature

My Story: Four Great WNC Memoirs

New Lecture Series Begins September 9


By Gina Malone

The Wilma Dykeman Legacy (WDL) continues its annual lecture and book discussion series with four memoirs by Western North Carolina writers. Events begin in September and run through December. This year’s series, titled My Story: Four Great WNC Memoirs, will feature autobiographies by Wilma Dykeman, Walter Ziffer, Nina Simone and Mary Judith Messer.

Lectures will be held at 7 p.m. on the second Thursday of each month, with book discussions at 7 p.m. on the following Wednesdays. All events are free and open to the public.

The series begins on Thursday, September 9, with WDL president Jim Stokely presenting his mother’s memoir, Family of Earth: A Southern Mountain Childhood, written when Dykeman was young and discovered and published after her death in 2006. It tells of her childhood in Asheville’s Beaverdam Valley region. The book discussion will be held Wednesday, September 15.

The following month, Ziffer, a retired engineer, minister and professor, will present a talk on his memoir titled Confronting the Silence: A Holocaust Survivor’s Search for God. “Being an academic has made it relatively easy to speak about the Holocaust despite the fact of having personally been sucked into the maelstrom of destruction,” Ziffer says. His presentations and writings, however, don’t provide anything near closure. “The horrific, personally lived events are still with me and very much alive, and what happened to 14 of my family members who were murdered remains a reminiscence I forcibly shut out from my mind as best as possible,” he says. Ziffer believes that his book and talk will be timely, given “the vulnerability of our democracy” today. His presentation will be held October 14, with a book discussion on October 20.

On November 11, Dr. Warren J. Carson, retired professor of English and director of the gospel choir at the University of South Carolina Upstate, presents a lecture on Simone’s autobiography, I Put a Spell on You. “I am a native of Tryon’s Eastside community, the same community that birthed and nurtured Simone in her early years, although she was about 20 years my senior,” says Carson. Simone, born Eunice Waymon, remains an influential figure among young artists 18 years after her death. Carson knew her family and was friends with her youngest sister though he did not meet Simone until he was in college. “Simone’s story is like most stories that track the journey from humble beginnings to greatness,” he says. “Hers is different in that it is complicated by race, gender and health issues, and Simone’s fight against those things without compromising her artistry.” Carson, whose academic background is in African American literature and culture, hopes “to provide additional context and clarification that will make her life story more realistic, less mythological.” The book discussion will be held November 17.

The series concludes with a talk on December 9 by Messer on her memoir Moonshiner’s Daughter, which tells of her “dirt poor” and painful upbringing in the Great Smoky Mountains during the 1940s and 1950s. The book discussion will be held on December 15.

To learn more about this and other events sponsored by the Wilma Dykeman Legacy, or to become a member, visit Register for the series at Upon registration, details will be provided as to whether the events will be held in person or via Zoom.

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