M. Jerry Weiss of Montclair, an internationally recognized expert in the field of children’s and adolescent literature and longtime university professor, died peacefully on March 12, 2021. He was 94.
Mr. Weiss, distinguished service professor of communications emeritus at New Jersey City University, formerly Jersey City State College, taught there for 33 years before retiring in 1994.
He inspired thousands of teachers, encouraging them to employ film, theater and humor and to expand reading lists to include contemporary as well as classic literature. He also discovered and promoted numerous children’s and young adult authors, guiding many of them in the development of their work.
The New Jersey Reading Association presents an annual M. Jerry Weiss Book Award, affectionately known as “The Jerry.” Established in his honor in 1993, the award is given to a children’s or young-adult author selected by students throughout the state.
In 2006, NJCU dedicated the M. Jerry Weiss Center for Children’s and Young Adult Literature in his honor.
Mr. Weiss was born in Oxford, N.C., and graduated from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. He earned his M.A. and Ed.D. degrees from Teachers College, Columbia University.
He served as a Navy signalman in World War II.
Mr. Weiss taught English, language arts and reading in secondary schools and colleges, including The Rhodes School in New York City, Pennsylvania State University, Defiance College and NJCU. He held leadership positions in the New Jersey Reading Association, the National Council of Teachers of English and the International Reading Association. He was also a leader in the fight against censorship.
He wrote, co-authored and edited dozens of anthologies of humor and drama, intended for the classroom. These included “Guidance Through Drama,” “Tales out of School,” “The American Way of Laughing” and “The Signet Book of American Essays.”
Mr. Weiss’ integrity, wit and commitment to helping others resulted in longtime friendships with many people he met over the years, including his former students. He greatly enjoyed travel — his profession and his desire to see the world took him to every state and many international destinations.
He shared his passion and deep knowledge of theater and film with his family by bringing them to see plays from a very young age and was thrilled to join the executive board of Montclair’s The Whole Theatre Company.
He also served on the board of the Montclair Public Library and was a past president of Congregation Shomrei Emunah.
He was a whiz at Scrabble, and if you beat him at the game, it was only because he let you.
Mr. Weiss is survived by his four children, Sharon Weiss (Bryan Leys), Frann Gersh (Wes), Eileen Weiss and Michael Weiss, and two grandchildren, Liz Pollio (Mike) and Max Gersh (Erin).
He was predeceased by his beloved wife, co-editor and humor scholar Helen S. Weiss.
A private funeral service was held on March 15.
Donations can be made in his memory to Congregation Shomrei Emunah, 67 Park St., Montclair, NJ 07042, or to the NJCU Foundation, earmarked for the M. Jerry Weiss Center, at 2039 Kennedy Blvd., 103 Grossnickle Hall, Jersey City, NJ 07305, or any literacy or social justice organization of your choice.