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Wilma Dykeman

Wilma Dykeman

Female 1920 - 2006  (86 years)

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  1. 1.  Wilma DykemanWilma Dykeman was born 20 May 1920, Asheville, Buncombe County, North Carolina; died 22 Dec 2006, John F. Keever Hospice Solace Center, Asheville, Buncombe County, North Carolina; was buried 29 Dec 2006, Beaver Dam Baptist Church Cemetery, Asheville, Buncombe County, North Carolina.


    Wilma Dykeman was born in Asheville, NC in 1920. Although she attended school in the North, she returned to the South, marrying James Stokely in 1940. Throughout her life, she has been a teacher, historian, reporter and author. Her 1955 book, The French Broad, started her career as historian. In 1981, she was named State Historian. Some of her other works have centered around civil rights (i.e. Neither Black Nor White, written in 1957 with her husband). She has also written several novels, including The Tall Woman (1962), The Far Family (1966) and Return the Innocent Earth (1973). She currently resides in Newport, Tennessee.

    Wilma Dykeman has lived all her life near the French Broad River in the mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee. Born in Asheville, she was the only child of a mother whose people had lived in the North Carolina mountains since the eighteenth century. She traces her interest in writing to the stories her parents read aloud to her when she was a child. By the time she was in elementary school, she was making up her own stories, plays, and poems. After graduating from high school and Biltmore Junior College in Asheville, the author went to Northwestern University for a bachelor's degree in speech.

    The summer after graduation, she met and married James R. Stokely, Jr., of Newport, Tennessee, a poet and nonfiction writer. The Stokelys, who maintained homes in both Asheville and Newport, collaborated on several books, including Neither Black Nor White (1957), a personal view of integration in the South; Seeds of Southern Change (1976), about race relations; and Prophet of Plenty (1966), a biography of Will W. Alexander, a Southern leader who worked for racial peace and justice. They also shared interests in book collecting and apple growing. Stokely died in 1977.

    Wilma Dykeman's first writings were radio scripts and short stories, which she followed with articles for Harper's, the New York Times Magazine, Reader's Digest, and other periodicals. In all, she has published more than sixteen books. The French Broad (1955), one of the famous "Rivers of America" series, was completed in a year but represents a lifetime of observation and note-taking. It recounts the history, legend, biography (such as the chapter on Thomas Wolfe), sociology, and economics of a mountain region that draws its life and ways from this stream and its tributaries. The book entertainingly relates a dozen or so memorable stories usually omitted from standard histories, such as the search for Professor Elisha Mitchell's body on the mountain that bears his name, the cutting of the Swannanoa tunnel, and the coming of the Vanderbilts to western North Carolina.

    Her critically acclaimed novels especially reflect her understanding of people in the North Carolina mountains. The Tall Woman (1966), which, like all of her books, has gone through numerous printings, tells of a determined mother's fight for education and justice in the years after the Civil War. The Far Family (1966) picks up several generations later and shows how long-lasting her efforts were.

    Return the Innocent Earth (1973) is loosely based on the fact that her husband belonged to the farming family that established the mammoth Stokely canning company. The book fictionally depicts the internecine contention between family members who want to remain true to the soil and those who are contemptuous of everything except the money generated by the canning company. Look to This Day (1969) is a book about her own life and convictions. In 1976 came Tennessee: A Bicentennial History. The writer has also collaborated with her two sons on two books.

    Dykeman's many honors include a Guggenheim Fellowship and the 1985 North Carolina Award for Literature. She has held the honorary title of Tennessee State Historian since 1981. A popular lecturer, she has taught a spring course for many years at the University of Tennessee. Sally Buckner relates in her anthology Our Words, Our Ways that: "Ms. Dykeman urges students to learn to listen and look at the world with keen eyes and ears, then apply themselves diligently. She also draws a keen distinction between aptitude and attitude. 'The talent comes from developing the aptitude,' she has said. 'The writer comes from developing the attitude.'"

    Excerpt from The French Broad
    (Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1955; now published by Wakestone Books)

    The French Broad is a river and a watershed and a way of life where day-before-yesterday and day-after-tomorrow exist in odd and fascinating harmony. Beneath the deepest waters impounded by Douglas Dam lies buried the largest untouched Indian mound of the French Broad country. Our most ancient relic of man and our most recent trophy of his scientific skill rest practically side by side.

    There is the same coexistence of past and present within the people. It helps explain how they may be at once so maddening and so charming, wrong about so many things and yet fundamentally right so often. This living past and present is my story of the French Broad. I should like to think that by some unmerited but longed-for magic I have spoken for a few of the anonymous dead along its banks and up its mountains. For the Negro baby drowned in the river when its mother tried to swim from slavery and bring it into freedom. For the sheriff who was shot in the back from a laurel-thicket ambush as he picked his way along a fog-blanketed early-morning trail. For the minister in a windowless log church who made foot washing a symbolic ceremony of humbleness and brotherhood. For the old taletellers around country stores and the urbane newcomers who seek but have not found as yet. For these and for the river itself, mountains, lowlands, woods, gullies, springs and ponds and brooks I should like to speak, to quicken understanding. For the French Broad is above all a live country. The Cherokees said, “We have set our names upon your waters and you cannot wash them out.” They were right - the Nolichucky and the Swannanoa and the Estatoe - but they might also have said, for all of us, “We have lived our lives along your rivers and you cannot wash the memory of us out.”

    Excerpt from The Tall Woman
    (Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1955; now published by Wakestone Books)

    [After the Civil War, Mark McQueen goes West, seeking a better life for his wife, Lydia, and their family.]

    Lydia was down by her spring the last day of January, dipping out any leaves that might have blown into the water since the last storm. When Dr. Hornsby rode into the yard she did not recognize him until he dismounted and was striding toward her.

    “And what are you doing this bleak day on this godforsaken mountain?” he asked, the gloom of his words belied in part by his hearty smile.

    “I’m cleaning my spring.”

    “And pray tell me, Lydia McQueen, how do you clean a spring? Do you wash the water?”

    “Don’t be making fun of me! There” - she pointed with the hoe - “look under the ledge where the roots of those poplar trees hold fast, and tell me if you ever set eyes on a bolder, finer spring. Or a cleaner one?”

    He went and looked. The natural bowl of water, surrounded on three sides and overhead by a ledge of rock and a tangled web of roots and earth stood clear and cold as glass. Here were beds of moss and galax and a dozen wild blackberry stalks. Someone had worked here lovingly and well.

    “I never set eyes on a bolder, finer spring,” he repeated. “Or a cleaner one.” Then abruptly he snapped the leaf off a galax plant with an angry flick of his switch. “Sometime I wish I could bear you word of something good. Now I have bad news.”

    She clutched the hoe. “What?”

    “Ham Nelson will fight you on getting your school for Thickety Creek.”

    She waited for him to go on. “Was that your news?”

    He nodded and she threw back her head and laughed. Why the news might have been of Mark, out West. “But I thought it meant so much to you,” Dr. Hornsby said stiffly. “I misjudged - “

    “Oh no! A school means everything to me. It’s just Ham Nelson that doesn’t mean anything.”

    The doctor looked at her. “Nelson’s a powerful man,” he said.

    “The power of a rock. But there’s something stronger than rock. You see that ledge over my spring? I’ve seen it cracked by the stem of a little vine that had to come up to sunlight through it. There’s nothing strong enough to stop for long the strength of growing things. And children are stouter than any vines.”

    They walked back down the path. He smiled at her. “I’m glad to have seen your fine spring of water,” he said. “I’m glad to have seen you.”

    Excerpt from Return the Innocent Earth
    (Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1955; now published by Wakestone Books)

    At the airport I rented a car and in the falling part of the afternoon, as old Cebo used to say, I came out to the fields where a canning empire was born. The gigantic bean pickers were just moving off the acres with the massive tread of dinosaurs. Here my boyhood boots pulled against the suck of mud; now my British walkers have jetted across continents of space and time. Down these dusty rows I once dragged battered crates and baskets; now my Gucci briefcase waits on the seat of the car at the edge of the field. Faces and voices surround me.

    How is it that we come to knowledge of ourselves and those strangers masquerading as lovers, parents, children, friends, adversaries? Names and roles assigned in pompous singleness but which in fact are fluid, overlapping, and several.

    By so-called facts: dates and places, figures, events, a neat record of births and deaths, marriages and mergers, reports in newspapers and journals which the mothers, aunts, cousins accumulate in fat, neat scrapbooks where the paste crumbles and yellows, the paper turns brittle and brown as dead leaves, and gray mildew finally whiskers the untouched crevices and spine of bindings.

    By unwitting fragments: a word, a glance, a breath, telling nothing but revealing all, buried in some convolution of the brain until it surfaces at an unexpected moment to slice through accepted myth with a laser beam of reality.

    By legend: gradual, constant, unconscious flow of family stories, anecdotes, reverences, judgments, communicating more by single turn of phrase, lift of eyebrow, tone of voice, than pages of words can suggest. All these sucked into us with milk and water, fed to us as surely as bread. Finally we “know” - not what happened so much as what someone, or several, believe or wish had happened. That is the legend we receive and transmit of something that happened somewhere and sometime to someone - one person at the beginning, a different person in the remembering.


    Appalachian Mountains. [With Dykeman Stokely; photography by Clyde H. Smith.] Portland, Ore.: Graphic Arts Center, 1980.

    The Border States: Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia. [With James Stokely.] New York: Time-Life Books, 1968.

    Explorations. Newport, Tenn.: Wakestone Books, 1984.

    The Far Family. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1966.

    The French Broad. New York: Rinehart, 1955.

    Highland Home: The People of the Great Smokies. [With Jim Stokely.] Washington, D.C.: National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, 1978.

    Look to This Day. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1968.

    Neither Black nor White. [With James Stokely.] New York: Rinehart, 1957.

    Prophet of Plenty: The First Ninety Years of W.D. Weatherford. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1966.

    Return the Innocent Earth. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1973.

    Seeds of Southern Change: The Life of Will Alexander. [With James Stokely.] Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962.

    The Tall Woman. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1962.

    Tennessee, a Bicentennial History. New York: Norton, 1975.

    Tennessee Woman: An Infinite Variety. Newport, Tenn.: Wakestone Books, 1993.

    Tennessee Women, Past and Present. Memphis: Tennessee Committee for the Humanities, 1977.

    Too Many People, Too Little Love: Edna Rankin McKinnon: Pioneer for Birth Control. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1974.

    Ms. Dykeman has also been a frequent contributor to periodicals.

    Additional information on Ms. Dykeman can be found in:

    Gage, Jim. "The 'Poetics of Space' in Wilma Dykeman's The Tall Woman." In The Poetics of Appalachian Space, edited by Parks Lanier, Jr., 67-80. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1991.

    Gantt, Patricia M. "Appalachia in Context: Wilma Dykeman's Search for the Souths." Ph.D. dissertation, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 1992.

    _____. "Wilma Dykeman's Tall Women: Challenging the Stereotypes." Iron Mountain Review 5, no. 1 (1989): 14-16, 21-25.

    Jones, Oliver K. "Social Criticism in the Works of Wilma Dykeman." Iron Mountain Review 5, no. 1 (1989): 26-32.

    _____. "Social Criticism in the Works of Wilma Dykeman, with a Primary and Secondary Bibliography of Her Work." M.A. thesis, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 1989.

    _____. "A Wilma Dykeman Bibliography." In Iron Mountain Review 5, no. 1 (1989): 33-36.

    Larson, Ron. "The Appalachian Personality." [Interviews with Wilma Dykeman and Harry M. Caudill.] Appalachian Heritage 11 (Winter 1983).

    Miller, Danny. "A MELUS Interview: Wilma Dykeman." MELUS: The Journal of the Society for the Study of the Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States 9 (Winter 1982): 45-59.

    "Tributes to Wilma Dykeman." Pembroke Magazine 25 (1992): 117-129.

    "Wilma Dykeman Issue." Iron Mountain Review 5 (Spring 1989).

    Wilma married James Rorex Stokely, Jr. 1940. James (son of James Rorex Stokely and Janie May Jones) was born 8 Oct 1913, Newport, Cocke County, Tennessee; died 20 Jun 1977, Newport, Cocke County, Tennessee. [Group Sheet]

    1. 2. Dykeman Cole "Dike" Stokely  Descendancy chart to this point
    2. 3. James Rorex "Rory" Stokely, III  Descendancy chart to this point

Generation: 2

  1. 2.  Dykeman Cole "Dike" Stokely Descendancy chart to this point (1.Wilma1)

  2. 3.  James Rorex "Rory" Stokely, IIIJames Rorex "Rory" Stokely, III Descendancy chart to this point (1.Wilma1)

    James — Anne Callison. [Group Sheet]

    1. 4. Elizabeth Dykeman Stokely  Descendancy chart to this point
    2. 5. William Callison Stokely  Descendancy chart to this point

Generation: 3

  1. 4.  Elizabeth Dykeman Stokely Descendancy chart to this point (3.James2, 1.Wilma1)

  2. 5.  William Callison Stokely Descendancy chart to this point (3.James2, 1.Wilma1)