Carolyn Finney, Author of “Black Faces, White Spaces,” to Speak February 29
Carolyn Finney (photo by Nicholas Nichols)

Storyteller, author, and cultural geographer Carolyn Finney will deliver the 2024 Wilma Dykeman Stokely Memorial Lecture on Thursday, February 29, at 7 p.m., at the East Tennessee History Center, 601 S. Gay Street.

The evening will feature conversation on the intersection of race and the environment.

The event is free and open to the public.

The lecture is hosted by Friends of the Knox County Public Library and the John C. Hodges Society of the University of Tennessee Libraries.

Finney is deeply interested in issues related to identity, difference, creativity, and resilience. The aim of her work is to develop greater cultural competency within environmental organizations and institutions, challenge media outlets on their representation of difference, and increase awareness of how privilege shapes who gets to speak to environmental issues and determine policy and action.

Her book Black Faces, White Spaces: Reimagining the Relationship of African Americans to the Great Outdoors asks the question: Why are African Americans so underrepresented when it comes to interest in nature, outdoor recreation, and environmentalism? Finney argues that the legacies of slavery, Jim Crow, and racial violence have shaped cultural understandings of the “great outdoors” and determined who should and can have access to natural spaces. 

Finney pursued an acting career for 11 years, but five years of backpacking through Africa and Asia and living in Nepal changed the course of her life. Motivated by these experiences, she returned to school after a 15-year absence to complete a bachelors, masters (both degrees focused on gender and environmental issues in Kenya and Nepal, respectively) and doctorate (on African Americans and environmental issues in the US). Finney has been a Fulbright Scholar, a Canon National Parks Science Scholar, and the recipient of a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship in Environmental Studies. 

The annual lecture honors the late Wilma Dykeman Stokely (1920–2006), writer, speaker, teacher, historian, environmentalist, and long-time friend of the Knox County Public Library. Her papers are part of the Betsey B. Creekmore Special Collections and University Archives at the University of Tennessee Libraries. Speakers at the Wilma Dykeman Stokely Memorial Lecture represent a wide range of backgrounds, experiences, and work, but all have a deep connection to one or more of Stokely’s passions: Appalachia, the environment, and racial and gender equity.