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Teaching Wilma Dykeman’s impact with a new children’s book

Shannon Hitchcock’s latest book recounts the fierce dedication of the writer and environmentalist in a way people of all ages can enjoy.


Wilma Dykeman and her father in 1929.

Photo via Special Collections, D. H. Ramsey Library, UNC Asheville

Writer and environmentalist Wilma Dykeman grew up in Asheville and spent nearly all of her life in the vicinity of the French Broad River, whether here in WNC or in Eastern TN. Even now, her legacy is all around us, including in the release of a new children’s book.

Throughout her life, Dykeman wrote 18 books (along with plenty of short stories, articles, and columns), covering not only environmental activism but social justice, particularly in the areas of race and gender. “Neither Black Nor White,” co-written with her husband James Stokely, received the Sidney Hillman Award in 1957 for the best book on world peace, race relations, or civil liberties.

A trailblazer in the environmental conservation movement popularized in the 1960s, Dykeman penned one of her most widely known works, “The French Broad,” in 1955, sharing a history of the river, the region, and the people who inhabit it. One of the book’s chapters boldly (and initially against the wishes of her publishers) asks, “Who killed the French Broad River?” The chapter and its question not only posit the idea that it is everyone’s responsibility to protect the river from pollution, but also stress the relationship between environmental sensitivity and economic development. Hence, the naming of the Wilma Dykeman Greenway in the River Arts District.

of words and water book cover

The cover of “Of Words and Water” by Susan Hitchcock.

Photo via Golf Leaf Literary

Teaching Dykeman’s legacy

You’re never too young to learn about Wilma Dykeman’s impact. Just yesterday, Asheville author Shannon Hitchcock’s children’s book “Of Words and Water: The Story of Wilma Dykeman—Writer, Historian, Environmentalist,” hit the shelves. The biography, complete with illustrations from Sophie Page, documents Dykeman’s tenacity and dedication in protecting the French Broad and her encouragement of others to follow suit.

You can pick up the book now from Malaprop’s downtown — but put Saturday, May 25 on your calendar because author Shannon Hitchcock, Dykeman’s son Jim Stokely, and RiverLink are coming together at The Wrong Way River Lodge at 11 a.m. to give you a chance to celebrate Wilma Dykeman’s legacy (and get your hands on a copy of the book).

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