John Foster West
John Foster West
HIGH POINT -- Professor West, 89, died May 2, 2008 at home.
John Foster, as he preferred to be called, was born December 10, 1918 in Wilkes County, NC 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 joined the Army Air Corps in 1943, where he learned to fly and when the war ended, taught airplane mechanics until he was honorably discharged in 1945. He graduated with a BA in English from UNC, Chapel Hill in 1947 and a MA 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, NC from 1949 to 1958, Old Dominion College in Norfolk, VA from 1958 to 1968 and, in 1968, Appalachian State University (ASU) to when he retired, 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. After retiring, he traveled extensively to Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
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, books of poetry include 'This Proud Land,' 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 NC Writers Conference, NC Folklore Society and Sigma Delta Chi, the professional journalism fraternity.
In addition to his parents, John was preceded in death by his wife, Nan, who died in 1966; his brothers, Leonard, Arnold, James and Ted; his sisters, Vernice Arms, Verlee Crump and Orene Burrell.
He is survived by his daughters, Betsy West of Charlotte, NC; Leah Killingsworth and husband, Ted of High Point, NC; son, John K. West of Boone; and three grandchildren, Karma, Ethan and Logan West of Silva City, NC. plus a host of nieces and nephews.
John Foster West was a fascinating, eccentric, brilliant, caring, introspective man and he will be missed by all who knew and loved him.
A memorial service to celebrate the life of John Foster West will be held on Friday, May 9, 2008 at 2:00 PM at Mount Lawn Memorial Park and Gardens, 521 Old E. Kings St. (421) in Boone, NC.
In lieu of flowers, memorial donations can be made to the John Foster West Scholarship Fund, care of the English Department at Appalachian State University, Boone, NC.
Online condolences may be submitted through
Arrangements by Cumby Family Funeral Service in High Point, NC.
To plant trees in memory, please visit our Sympathy Store.
Published by Charlotte Observer on May 7, 2008.
No memorial events are currently scheduled.
To offer your sympathy during this difficult time, you can now have memorial trees planted in a National Forest in memory of your loved one.
Sponsored by Betsy West, daughter.
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16 Entries
I'm nearly thirty years out of Appalachian State, and no professor had as much of an impact on my college career or my life as this man. Thank you for believing in me, when I didn't in myself. Thank you for inspiring me to be true to that self. Thank you for believing I had a book in my head. When it finally comes out, I'll dedicate it to you. Thank you for teaching me how to laugh at some of my more embarrassing personality quirks. I love you.
Linnea Martinson Armstrong
October 11, 2018
As a high school student in Boone, NC, I was blessed to be able to take John Foster West's Creative Writing classes at ASU. No words can express all that this generous, talented and inspiring teacher/writer passed on to those fortunate enough to study with him. His influence on my work is overwhelming. It was through his guidance that I discovered a pride in my Appalachian heritage. I can still recall his booming laugh as he watched my first produced play. No audience response has ever meant more to me. I think of him every time I sit down to write. And I will continue to return to his work for inspiration.
Preston Lane
May 15, 2008
I only met John just over a year ago, through his daughter Leah. He came with his daughter and son-in-law to Smith Mtn. lake on the weekends. Many weekends you could find him sitting under the B dock trees. I will miss seeing and talking to him there, he was a very interesting person. Rest in peace.
Teresa Hudson-Floyd
May 14, 2008
John Foster West was my great-uncle (my maternal grandmother's brother) and one of the most important and influential people in my life. He inspired me to become a writer and a college English teacher, often telling me what I needed to hear instead of what I wanted to hear. He was my mentor, my idol, my wise man on the mountaintop. I loved him dearly.
Daun Daemon
May 14, 2008
John was a star in all circles. Whenever I taught one of his novels or poems, the students, young and old alike, wanted to know him personally. I felt that way too and got to be his friend. My sympathy to his family and other friends,
Jim Clark
May 9, 2008
West, as the old souls that we are, Reba and I tip our glasses to you as we have so many times before and as we will so many times to come. Wry wine tastes of purple mountains that blend into blue beyond the wind through the pines we have known all our lives. That you know what I mean, to the roots of all our poetry, simply burns tears into my eyes. You are the only one I ever called my teacher as Reba is the only one I ever called my best friend. In your honor, West, I try to give something back and on sacred ground. I love you.
Hilda Downer
May 8, 2008
"Miss a meal if you have to, but don't miss a book". Particularly one of John's.
I will miss you.
Mike Hughes
May 8, 2008
John Foster West taught creative writing for many years at Appalachian State University, where he has very generously endowed a scholarship for writing students. He influenced a notable group of regional writers, including R.T. Smith, Donald Secreast, and Hilda Downer. Dr. Secreast gave a beautiful review of John Foster's influence at a poetry reading here some years back. John Foster was a character, who often entertained and educated us with "wry wine." He was also an active member of the North Carolina Folklore Society throughout his career. He was a joy, a challenge, and a delight to know. May his good soul rest in peace.
Thomas McGowan
May 8, 2008
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May 8, 2008
Oh, my goodness -- what a dear he was. John Foster was my friend when we were almost young. "Time Was" was a monumental book that inspired generations, so perfect was his touch with characters, and his love of that place -- neither of them probably all fiction by a long shot. He was also one of the funniest people on the globe. He concocted that "chick lit" book, "The Summer People" under a female name, and when the prize was announced, the mystery woman arose, "her" bald dome gleaming, and accepted in a piping voice. As always, everybody loved it.
We loved him. We love his memory. I never pass through Wilkes County that he is not there, in so many blessed ways.
Dot Jackson
May 7, 2008
To my cousins (John West's children): To this day, I still brag to my friends and my children about my Uncle John and tell them about the books he wrote. I always tell my friends that if they ever want to understand my heritage, they should read 'Time Was.' I'll miss him.
Lyles West
May 7, 2008
To my cousins (John West's children): To this day, I still brag to my friends and my children about my Uncle John and tell them about the books he wrote. I always tell my friends that if they ever want to understand my heritage, they should read 'Time Was.' I'll miss him.
Lyles West
May 7, 2008
I consider the reading of "Time Was" as a significant landmark in my life and I became a devoted fan afterwards, attending John Foster's workshops, lectures and collecting his works.
Gary Carden
May 7, 2008
We will miss John Foster, an old family friend and a regular at the North Carolina Writers' Conference for as long as I can remember.
Jim Owen
May 7, 2008
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