Saturday, May 10, 2008

John Foster West, 1918 - 2008

Professor John Foster West, 89, died May 2, 2008.

John Foster, as he preferred to be called, was born Dec. 10, 1918 in Wilkes County, N.C., to John Wilkes and Elvira Foster West during the flu epidemic of that year. John attended Mars Hill College in 1941, where he met his future wife, Nan Elizabeth Love. He graduated with a B.A. in English from UNC-Chapel Hill in 1947 and with an M.A. in 1949. As an undergraduate, he was involved in establishing the “Carolina Quarterly,” a literary journal still in existence today. He also did doctoral work in English and journalism at Chapel Hill and the University of Iowa.

He taught English and creative writing for 42 years at three different colleges. He was at Elon College, N.C., from 1949 to 1958, Old Dominion College in Norfolk, Va., from 1958 to 1968, and in 1968, Appalachian State University (ASU), from which he retired, as professor emeritus, in January 1991. At ASU, along with teaching, he was writer-and-poet-in-residence and mentored hundreds of aspiring writers and poets throughout the years.John will be remembered most as a North Carolina writer, poet, historian and activist for the preservation and ecology of his beloved mountains.

His first published book of poetry, “Up Ego,” was written while he was teaching at Elon College in 1951. In 1965, John received wide acclaim for his first novel, “Time Was.” Published by Random House, the publishers submitted his novel to be considered for a Pulitzer Prize. Other books were: “Appalachian Dawn,” 1973, a sequel to “Time Was”; the “Ballad of Tom Dula,” 1990; and the Appalachian Consortium’s Appalachian Fiction Award, “The Summer People” in 1989. In addition to varied contributions to magazines and other periodicals, his books of poetry include: “This Proud Land,” with photography by Bruce Roberts, “Wry Wine” and “High Noon at Pompeii.”

John received many awards and acknowledgements during his prolific career. He has appeared in “Who’s Who in the South and Southwest,” “Who’s Who Among American Scholars,” “Contemporary Authors” and the “Dictionary of International Biography.” He was past president of the N.C. Writers Conference, N.C. Folklore Society and Sigma Delta Chi, the professional journalism fraternity.

John Foster West was a fascinating, eccentric, brilliant, caring and introspective man and he will be missed by all who knew and loved him.

From his works:

…My last lover told me I smelled like apples
an acceptable fruit filled with
tart juices.
A product of bright seasons and sunlight,
I will use this longest day to play
among granite outcroppings up here,
companion to the goldenrod and daisies,
to the music of the ubiquitous mocking bird,
the sun, earth, and the green mountains,
the things I kneel to.
Carpe diem seems an apt adage still.

-Excerpt from Summer Solstice – 1988 (on the crest of the Blue Ridge) included in High Noon in Pompeii

Mrs. DeVoss spoke again after they left the tunnel of trees and approached a huge, two-story building on the right, dark with age. There was a narrow little porch, two rusting pumps like strangers standing close together for companionship, and a dilapidated farm wagon to one side with mules hitched to it testing the sound of the approaching car with long ears swinging from side to side like hairy antennae. Anna could see faded signs on the side of the building: Peach Snuff, Rumford Baking Powder, B. C. Headache Powders, and Nehi Grape.

-From The Summer People


~ LMA said...

I Googled John Foster out of curiosity because I knew he was getting on in years. He was one of my favorite professors, not just for his larger-than-life personality, but for his encouragement while I was his student.

The world has lost a real gem.

Anonymous said...

I stumbled upon this news while trying to locate one of my all time favorite teachers. Although the world may never know it, he taught me to write creatively. His colleague, Ferris Reynolds at Elon, taught me how to think and question. Both gentlemen receive an A Plus and rank as two of my all time favorite teachers. I'm just completing my first attempt at publishing a book, and regret being unable to turn to this wise man for encouragement and advice ... even after all these years.
Don Kimrey, N. Topsail Beach, N.C.