A Magical Setting for EpicFest

Mark West, PhD

Mark I. West, Professor and Chair, Department of English at UNC-C and EpicFest volunteer shared his thoughts about EpicFest and the perfect convergence of setting and experience:

The story of EpicFest, the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library Foundation’s free literary festival for children and their families, has an almost magical setting, a place where stories come alive and imagination rules the day.  This special place is, of course, ImaginOn: The Joe & Joan Martin Center.  There literally is no place else quite like it in the world.   Part of what makes ImaginOn so special is its innovative and welcoming architecture, but I think the main reason that ImaginOn is such a unique place is the way it combines the resources and programming associated with a children’s library with the offerings of a vibrant children’s theatre company.  In a sense, ImaginOn is not only a place; it’s also a catalyst that brings books and plays together, often resulting in a form of alchemy or, to use a more modern term, synergy.

An example of such synergy is the pairing of the Children’s Theatre of Charlotte’s production of the musical Matilda and the Library Foundation’s EpicFest. Matilda,  based on Roald Dahl’s novel by the same name, just ended its run at ImaginOn.  Matilda is about a story-loving girl who turns to books and librarians for help and inspiration in her efforts to overcome the obstacles that face her.  Given the important role that books play in this musical, Matilda is an ideal lead up to EpicFest, for both Matilda and EpicFest celebrate the joy of stories and the power of books.

Roald Dahl believed deeply that children and books belong together.  I had the privilege of interviewing Dahl about a year before his death in 1990.  I concluded the interview by asking him if he found it more satisfying to write for children or adults.  In his response to my question, he commented on the importance of books in children’s lives: “It’s more rewarding to write for children.  When I am writing for adults, I’m just trying to entertain them.  But a good children’s book does much more than entertain.  It teaches children the use of words, the joy of playing with language.  Above all, it helps children learn not to be frightened of books.  Once they can get through a book and enjoy it, they realize that books are something that they can cope with.  If they are going to amount to anything in life, they need to be able to handle books.  If my books can help children become readers, then I feel I have accomplished something important.”

As a member of EpicFest’s steering committee, I know that the organizers of this festival share Dahl’s desire to help children become readers.  We have made sure that the children who come to this year’s EpicFest will have many opportunities to interact with children’s authors and illustrators and make connections with other children who love to read.  We have arranged for literature-themed projects to be scattered throughout ImaginOn in order to encourage children to explore the building and interact with stories at the same time. On the same weekend, the Children’s Theatre of Charlotte will premiere a play based on the Newbery-winning book The Last Stop on Market Street at ImaginOn’s Wells Fargo Playhouse. The planners of EpicFest and the producers of this play are not part of the same staff, but the festival and play complement each other perfectly.  Such wonderful convergences happen all of the time within the magical setting of ImaginOn.

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