ASHEVILLE, N.C. -- Wilma Dykeman, who chronicled the people of Appalachia and the land that shaped them in 18 novels and nonfiction books, died Friday at a hospice. She was 86.
Ms. Dykeman had been in failing health since fracturing a hip two months ago.
Her first book, "The French Broad" in 1955, was deeply influential on Appalachian writers and described by one critic as a love poem to the region and its people.
The book was part of the acclaimed "Rivers of America Series," fusing history, environmental activism, and folklore in a way that inspired other authors from the region to look to their heritage for subject matter.
"I think it would be hard to overestimate her importance," said Robert Morgan, a professor at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., and author of the bestseller "Gap Creek."
"Though I grew up in Henderson County on a little farm, I had never been a student of the region until I read the book," he said.
Ms. Dykeman grew up in Buncombe County.
Writer Thomas Wolfe's sister introduced Ms. Dykeman to her husband -to-be , James R. Stokely Jr., a Tennessee poet.
They wrote several books together, including "Neither Black nor White" in 1957, which won the Sidney Hillman Award as the book of the year on world peace, race relations, or civil liberties.