News & Features

Telling Stories

For Dr. Jason Sommer, words are as natural as breath. The sound of language intoxicated him from childhood on, quickly bubbling into his imagination and curiosity. And because of this, it should be no surprise that he is Fontbonne's poet-in-residence and the 2008-2009 recipient of the Fontbonne Artist/Scholar Award.

"I've always enjoyed the sound of language, whether it was my father yammering away in a number of different languages I didn't understand, or my mother reading to me - nursery rhymes or fairytales," says Sommer, a professor in Fontbonne's English and communication department. "It made me want to fool with the sounds myself, and I just sort of naturally began to experiment with them when I was in grade school,"
Sommer is only the second recipient of the Fontbonne Artist/Scholar Award, an honor designed to give faculty and staff the opportunity to recognize the accomplishments of their peers. After more than 20 years as a Fontbonne faculty member, he delights in his colleagues' recognition of his work and successes.

"The award really places its recipients in a wider context for this community," Sommer comments. "Having now served on the panel - as the current winner - I see how carefully the members of the committee go over the achievements of candidates and attend to the criteria - not just if someone has a book, but where it's published, and the place someone might have in a national conversation in her or his field. So, the award honors its winners very particularly and leaves me feeling that what I've done received some real attention and appreciation at the university."

His poetry covers a broad range of topics, but he derives much of his subject matter from the memories of his father, a Holocaust survivor.

"I call it my ‘assigned' subject matter, sometimes literally," he explains. "I have been made the keeper of certain stories, have been charged to remember and to tell, and so I have told the stories of my father and my aunt in poems, and told about what it was to live among the tellers, to make a place for my own voice and my own life after that generation and what it experienced."

Although he continues to write - his most recent book of poetry is titled "The Man Who Sleeps in My Office" (University of Chicago Press 2004) - Sommer also enjoys teaching and encouraging students here at Fontbonne. His life may be full and varied, but the advice he gives to aspiring writers and poets is simple.

"Reading and the pleasure of reading is an absolute necessity to a writer," he says. "Read, read and read."