Arts Heritage

Series Explores Literature by Female Authors

Lillian Smith at Age 30

By Gina Malone

Starting this month, the West Asheville Library will once again host Southern Women Authors Writing America Between the Wars, a lecture and book discussion series sponsored by the Wilma Dykeman Legacy and the North Carolina Humanities Council.

President of the Wilma Dykeman Legacy Jim Stokely says last year’s inaugural lecture series proved a success with nearly full houses in attendance for discussions of the works and lives of female authors acclaimed in their day, but largely overlooked now. “This fall we’re highlighting four different writers,” Stokely says. “And we’re emphasizing the actual reading of our four featured books by including book discussions as an integral part of the overall program.”

The series will explore novels by Caroline Miller, Elizabeth Madox Roberts and Lillian Smith, and short stories by Mildred Haun. “All of these writers held national and international reputations and the audience will surely find their works thought-provoking, masterful and important,” says Mimi Fenton, project director and Western Carolina University professor.

Smith’s Strange Fruit kicks off the program with films on Wednesday, September 12, and a lecture by Margaret Rose Gladney, professor emerita at the University of Alabama, on Thursday, September 13. Gladney encountered Smith’s work while a doctoral student in the 1970s. “I had entered the graduate program asking why does racism exist, and then why does sexism persist and why are we so fearful of homosexuality and physical and mental disabilities,” she says. “Known as the foremost southern white writer of the mid-20th century to challenge racial segregation, Smith addressed all those questions.” A discussion of the book will be held Wednesday, September 19.

Miller and her novel, Lamb in His Bosom, will be topics for October, with a lecture by Emily Wright, professor at Methodist University. “This wonderful book, which won the Pulitzer Prize just a few years before Gone With the Wind, tells a different story than its more well-known successor,” Wright says, “the story of non-slaveholding white pioneers on the south Georgia frontier. It is also a lush and lyrical depiction of a woman’s relationship with both the nature outside her and the nature within.”

The interrelated short stories in The Hawk’s Done Gone by Tennessee writer Haun will be discussed in November. Katie Hoffman, founder of Appalworks, a company that promotes cultural heritage, will be the lecturer.

Victoria Barker, professor at Carson-Newman University, wraps up the series in December with Roberts’ The Time of Man, set in Kentucky. “Roberts’ work is relevant today because in every major novel she explores ways that women who are placed under incredible stresses and often victimized are able to find the strength to take positive steps to move beyond their circumstances,” Barker says. “Ellen Chesser’s story provides readers with an unforgettably mature, grounded protagonist who refuses to succumb to poverty, the loss of a child and the problems of a flawed marriage.”

The series includes films, lectures, book discussions and a music/text performance. All events are free and open to the public and begin at 7 p.m. with refreshments served.

For a complete schedule of events, visit wilmadykemanlegacy.org. The West Asheville Library is located at 942 Haywood Road.

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