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May 18 Party Honors Wilma Dykeman’s Legacy

In remembrance of a cherished Asheville writer’s contributions to Appalachian literature, the environmental movement and social justice, the Wilma Dykeman Legacy will present Wilma Dykeman’s 104th Birthday Anniversary Party on Saturday, May 18, from 1–4 p.m. The open-house style event will be held at Black Wall Street AVL in the River Arts District and is free to the general public. Performances of music and storytelling will be held at the top of each hour starting at 1 p.m.

Kelle Jolly

A storyteller and ukulele player, Kelle Jolly brings a wealth of cultural influences to her performative work, which includes music and storytelling. On Knoxville’s WUOT 91.9 FM, she hosts “Jazz Jam with Kelle Jolly,” a weekly radio show celebrating local, national and international jazz musicians. She is also the 2023 recipient of the National Association of Black Storytellers’ Black Appalachian Storytellers Fellowship.

“I feel naturally aligned with Wilma Dykeman’s love of Appalachia and the need to preserve its beauty,” Jolly says. “Similarly, I feel the need to serve the people of Appalachia.” To prepare for this event, she researched Dykeman and the legacy she left behind. “We remember people by echoing their values,” Jolly says. “We honor them with our behaviors and actions. It’s important to have celebrations that celebrate the legacy of people who lived their lives working to be just and equitable.”

Actor, storyteller and Chautauqua Scholar Becky Stone discovered Dykeman’s novel The Tall Woman when a mutual friend recommended it to her after she and her husband moved to the area in 1978. She went on to read other books by the author and heard Dykeman speak. “Her values are those of someone who seeks to be open and honest about the history of this region with a heart that deeply loves the mountains and all of its people,” Stone says. “She made issues that could be difficult to handle accessible to us all.”

Becky Stone

For her contribution to the celebration of Dykeman’s life, Stone will return to those pivotal books, reading excerpts that reveal Dykeman’s insights and observations about race relations in the region. “I hope to share some interesting historical stories about African American life in Asheville and the surrounding mountains,” she says. “The other performers will help us celebrate the diverse cultures of some of the people who have settled in this area. And I may just throw in a traditional tale or two myself.”

M A R is a trans/non-binary artist, multi-instrumentalist and advocate from Peru who now calls Asheville home. It was Stone, he says, who first introduced him to Dykeman’s work after a performance at Swannanoa Solstice a couple of years ago. “The more I read about Wilma Dykeman,” M A R says, “I felt really curious about her work and activism back in the ‘50s and ‘60s. It inspired me to know a white cis woman of her times was involved in speaking up for equality and social justice for minorities. As a Latin trans man and advocate myself, I feel linked to Wilma’s drive to bring about inclusion for all.”

M A R. Photo by Anna Caterina Photography

That advocacy for inclusion inspires M A R’s artistic voice and will lend itself to his performance during the event. “My songs are about people’s experiences, their struggles and need for inclusion,” he says. “My contribution is about visibility for my community as well; as a trans artist, I advocate for that part of the community which may not have a voice, but has the right and need to be seen. I represent those voices because they belong, they matter and they are valuable.”

Born in 1920, Dykeman was a best-selling novelist, a strong advocate of civil rights, a founder of Appalachian studies and a historian, professor and mother. Her book The French Broad, written in 1955, remains a classic and is credited with spurring action to clean up the French Broad River. She died in 2006, and six years later The Wilma Dykeman Legacy was founded as a nonprofit to sustain and promote her core values.

Black Wall Street AVL is located at 8 River Arts Place, in Asheville’s River Arts District. Learn more at

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