Children’s Literacy, Literature Advocate Receives Public Service Award

Mark West, who has devoted his 35-year career at UNC Charlotte to advancing children’s literacy and children’s literature, is a recipient of the Governor James E. Holshouser Jr. Award for Excellence in Public Service.

Given by the UNC System Board of Governors, this award recognizes and rewards sustained, distinguished and superb achievement in university public service and outreach and contributions to improve the quality of life of the citizens of North Carolina. 

West, who is a professor of children’s literature and former chair of UNC Charlotte’s Department of English in the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, credits his father with his love of literature.

“I know I would not be a professor today if it were not for my father reading aloud,” he said. “We did not have a television, but my father read to us every single night all through my childhood, up through eighth grade. Because my father read aloud to me, it allowed me to develop a love of literature even though I struggled to read as a child.”

Throughout his career, West has been a strong advocate for children’s literacy and has brought his expertise into the community with his work with Charlotte-area schools, the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library, Children’s Theatre of Charlotte and others. His commitment to civic engagement is underscored by a recent grant from the North Carolina Humanities Council for the project, “The Child Character in Southern Literature and Film,” a partnership with area schools and the Charlotte Public Library to raise awareness about diversity and the history of childhood in the South as reflected in children’s literature.

“I care more about children’s literature than adult literature because, to me, it makes more of a difference,” West said.

West received the most prestigious honor in his field, the Anne Devereaux Jordan Award for Outstanding Achievement in Children’s Literature. He also is the 2019 Bonnie E. Cone Professorship in Civic Engagement recipient for his ongoing commitment to civic involvement that has positively impacted the University’s relationship with the community. 

West has been cultivating relationships between the University and the community since moving to Charlotte in 1984, including co-founding the Charlotte Forum in Children’s Literature and organizing a local Seuss-a-Thon event. He was integrally involved in the long-standing Novello literary festival held at the Charlotte Public Library. He also founded the Center City Literary Festival, an annual literary event hosted at UNC Charlotte’s Center City campus.

His partnerships with Charlotte-area schools have included literacy and library events, regular school-wide presentations, and a number of after-school literacy events for children and families. He also has led seminars with the Charlotte Teachers Institute to help strengthen the teaching of literature in area public schools.

This year, the UNC Board of Governors bestowed the award to two recipients. Martin Posey, a professor in UNC Wilmington’s Department of Biology and Marine Biology, is the other recipient. Both honorees receive a $7,500 stipend and a bronze medallion in honor of their work.

The three faculty members at UNC Charlotte who have received this award over the years are faculty in the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences. In addition to West, Jim Cook of Psychological Science and Harold Reiter of Mathematics and Statistics have received the honor.

Read the UNC System press release.

Words: Aimee Hawkins | Image: Lynn Roberson