Continuing the Conversation with Dr. Darin Waters and the Communities of Asheville
Strong public response to last November’s “The Child by Tiger” discussion programs, led by Thomas Wolfe scholar Joanne Maudlin and Dr. Darin Waters of UNC Asheville, has prompted Buncombe County Public Libraries, The Thomas Wolfe Memorial, and the YMI to sponsor a follow-up program to allow for fuller discussion. The program, led by Dr. Waters, will explore Wolfe’s views on race, as expressed in his 1937 short story, “The Child by Tiger,” and in his 1923 play, Welcome to Our City.
What do these fictional works by Thomas Wolfe reveal about his views on race? What do African American responses to the actual events reveal about race relations in Asheville? Do survival mechanisms that were once essential still endure? If so, why? And what is their impact?
In ”The Child by Tiger,” Wolfe creates a fictionalized version of the 1906 Will Harris murders and subsequent lynching. Dr. Waters will discuss Wolfe’s sympathetic portrayal of the Will Harris character in the story, the 1906 response of the African American community to the events, and the question of local folklore about it in the African American community.
In the lesser-known Welcome To Our City, Wolfe imagines a fictional group of civic leaders plotting to take land near the center of a small mountain town away from African Americans in order to redevelop it. Library Director Ed Sheary says, “The play is more than a little bit predictive of what happened to the community during urban renewal.”
In an introduction to the play, scholar Richard S. Kennedy quotes from a letter Wolfe wrote to a friend in 1922: “Coming home this last time I have gathered enough additional material to write a new play . . .this thing I had thought naïve and simple is as old and as evil as hell; there is a spirit of world-old evil that broods about us, with all the subtle sophistication of Satan. Greed, greed, greed—deliberate, crafty, motivated—masking under the guise of civic associations for municipal betterment.” (Richard S. Kennedy in Welcome To Our City, Louisiana State U. Press, 1983).
Dr. Waters will compare Wolfe’s 1923 fictional version of a municipal land-grab with the reality of urban renewal here in the 1960s and ’70s, continuing the discussion of the role of survival strategies. “What is particularly interesting about this is that these events occurred at the expense of the majority of the people,” Waters says. “Only a few well-placed individuals appear to have benefitted from programs and decisions that were sold as progress for all, and this has resulted in both racial and class divisions that continue to plague our communities in many ways.”
The program will take place on Monday, March 4, 2013 at 6:30 p.m. at the YMI. Snow date for the program is Tuesday, March 5, 2013 at 6:30 p.m. at the YMI. For more information, please call Pack Library at (828) 250-4740.