ASHEVILLE — Strong public response to last November’s “The Child by Tiger” discussion programs, led by Joanne Maudlin, a noted Thomas Wolfe scholar, and Dr. Darin Waters, from the UNC-Asheville Department of History, has prompted Buncombe County Public Libraries, the Thomas Wolfe Memorial and the YMI Cultural Center to sponsor a follow-up program that allows for more complete discussion on Monday, March 4, at 6:30 p.m. at the YMI. Dr. Waters will lead the program to explore Wolfe’s views on race, as expressed in his 1937 short story, “The Child by Tiger,” and in his play, Welcome to Our City, published in 1923.
What do these fictional works by Thomas Wolfe work 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 Will Harris event and the question of local folklore in the African American community about the event.
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.”
Dr. Waters will compare Wolfe’s 1923 fictional version of a municipal land-grab in the play Welcome To Our City with the reality of urban renewal here in the 60s 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 benefited 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.”
For information, call Pack Library at (828) 250-4740. The snow date for the program is Tuesday, March 5, at 6:30 p.m. at the YMI.