FREMANTLE’S Literature Centre parted ways with a giant recently with the retirement of founder Lesley Reece.
“Lesley Reece was the Literature Centre (and probably always will be),” internationally-renowned author of The Book Thief Markus Zusak said of the quietly tenacious director.
Ms Reece founded the centre (formerly the Children’s Literature Centre) in 1992 with the goal of inspiring young readers and writers. Since then, she has worked fiercely to secure cultural and financial recognition for Australian authors, envisioning a future where young West Australians who are inspired to write encounter a welcoming readership.
Ms Reece knows firsthand the beauty and value of a childhood spent immersed between pages.
Her own parents were great readers. “We did not have the money to buy books. The trip to the library was the highlight of the week,” she says.
According to Ms Reece, a good book provides more than an enhanced vocabulary. She speaks with tenderness of the sense of wonder and perspective a story can spark in the minds of children and adults alike.
“You can escape into a good book. It enables you to live vicariously, to dip into so many lives.”
The centre, appropriately housed in storied quarters at the old Fremantle Prison hospital, offers a range of educational programs both locally and regionally and has received international attention.
Ms Reece was awarded the 2010 Children’s Book Council of Australia’s Nan Chauncy Award in recognition of her “outstanding contribution to the field of Australian children’s literature”.
She was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia in 2015 for her significant services to children.
“Children’s and youth literature is integral to our culture,” Ms Reece told Writing WA when she was shortlisted for the organisation’s Literary Lions Medal in 2019.
“If you can build young readers, make them feel that they can be part of the writing process, that leads to a very, very sound future.”
Local writer and artist Shaun Tan said Ms Reece’s great contribution was “connecting the dots, the words, the pictures, the people”. Mr Tan is one of many West Australian authors who got their start in the Literature Centre’s Talented Young Writers program before going on to win a raft of literary awards, and an Oscar for the short film adaptation of his 2000 book The Lost Thing.
“It’s hard to imagine Australian children’s literature without Lesley’s contribution, and it’s also inspirational to see what difference an individual can make,” he said.
Ms Reece will be joining the board of Writing WA where, she says “I’m looking forward to giving back to that wonderful organisation”.
When the Chook asked if she had a fat stack of books on the bedside table awaiting her retirement: “Oh yeah … but
I always have time to read,” Ms Reece replied. “I make it a priority.”
Everyone at the Chook wishes her a happily ever after.
by CARSON BODIE