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Gernes, Sonia 1942-

Gernes, Sonia 1942-


Surname rhymes with "furnace"; born November 15, 1942, in Winona, MN; daughter of Albert J. (a dairy farmer) and Sophia (a teacher) Gernes. Education: College of St. Teresa, B.A., 1966; University of Washington, Seattle, M.A., 1971, Ph.D., 1975. Religion: Roman Catholic.


Home—South Bend, IN. Office—Department of English, University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, IN 46556. E-mail—[email protected]


Educator and writer. Entered Order of St. Francis, 1960, released from vows, 1974; high school English teacher in Albert Lea, MN, 1965-66, Adrian, MN, 1966-67, and Winona, MN, 1967-69; University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, IN, assistant professor, 1975-81, from associate professor of English to professor emerita, 1981—. Also taught in Notre Dame's London program, 1989, and in the University's program in Fremantle, Western Australia, 1993.


Modern Language Association of America, Poets and Writers.


Poetry awards from Pacific Northwest Writers Conference, 1973 and 1975; awards from Academy of American Poets, 1975; Best Poetry Book award from Midland Writers Association, 1981, for Brief Lives; citation from Council for the Advancement and Support of Education, 1981, for article "Faith and Art: The Vocation of Flannery O'Connor"; Fulbright Senior Lecturer in New Zealand, 1986; Lilly Faculty fellow, 1990-91; Charles E. Sheedy Award, 1990, for distinguished teaching at Notre Dame; Notre Dame Faculty award, 1994; Notre Dame Presidential award, 1996; Creative Writing fellowship, National Endowment for the Arts, 1999.


The Mutes of Sleepy Eye (poems), Inchbird Press (Seattle, WA), 1981.

Brief Lives (poems), University of Notre Dame Press (Notre Dame, IN), 1981.

The Way to St. Ives (novel), Scribner (New York, NY), 1982.

Women at Forty (poems), University of Notre Dame Press (Notre Dame, IN), 1988.

A Breeze Called the Fremantle Doctor (poems/tales), University of Notre Dame Press (Notre Dame, IN), 1997.

What You Hear in the Dark: New and Selected Poems, University of Notre Dame Press (Notre Dame, IN), 2006.

Poems and short stories have appeared in anthologies, including Best Short Stories of 1995, Best Short Stories of 1998, and Writers' Almanac. Contributor of articles and poems to magazines, including Notre Dame, New Republic, Southern Review, Sewanee Review, Poetry Northwest, and Texas Quarterly.


Sonia Gernes once told CA: "I was born in an old Mississippi River town and grew up on a dairy farm nearby. I attended a one-room country school for the first eight years of my education, and I spent much of my childhood roaming the woods and fields of the bluffs along the upper Mississippi.

"After high school, I joined the Order of St. Francis, a Catholic religious community, and subsequently graduated from college and taught, as a nun, in the small towns of southern and western Minnesota. I left the convent during graduate school.

"It wasn't until I moved to Seattle in 1969 that I realized how important the Midwest is to me as a writer. I'd been writing poetry and some fiction since high school, but most of the poems were set, if anywhere, in a rather nebulous world that I envisioned as more glamorous and probably more worthy than the farmsteads of my youth or the endless plains of my teaching years. One night at a poetry reading, I listened to a poet from Wisconsin, who described the silos of his native state. I thought, ‘I can do that. That's where I'm from. That's who I am.’ I went home and wrote a poem about learning to shoot a rifle and hunt squirrels with my brother when I was twelve. My teacher said, ‘This is what you needed. This is the best thing you've done.’ I've written almost exclusively about the Midwest ever since. The Way to St. Ives is set in a tiny prairie town.

"I've spent the last seven years trying to come to terms with Indiana. It's a love/hate relationship, perhaps the most fruitful kind for an artist. There is nothing I can sentimentalize here, nothing I can rhapsodize about, nothing I can even overlook. I am forced, day after day, to admit the solidity, the tenacity, the simply assumed sense of survival that holds those of us who live here to this flat and fertile earth. I have learned, as I said in a poem, the passions of the landlocked heart.

"What makes the Midwest different, I think, is that men and women are not part of an elaborate and lengthy social heritage as they are on the East Coast, nor posed against a grandiose landscape as they are in the West. Things are elemental here—stripped down, flattened out, in plain sight. There is no place to hide here; there is no ocean to provide an escape. Life on an elemental level can be raw, at times, and bleak, but there is also a robustness that keeps emerging. There is an ability here to endure not only the country's most violent change of seasons, but an endless sameness, a landscape monotonous as truth.

"My roots, my subject matter, are all rural, but I have a sense that even in the cities of the Midwest, whatever rises, rises from the soil. Perhaps the soul does the same. There are good years and lean, but what fails is plowed down and comes back again. Things do not end here; whatever the human cost, the land is the primal fact, and the land does and will remain."

What You Hear in the Dark: New and Selected Poems, published in 2006, gathers selected poems from the authors' previous books of poetry and includes three sections of new poems. The older and newer poems offer a wide range of the author's verse, from her look at the flat and fertile earth of the Midwest in poems from Brief Lives and ponderings about midlife in poems from Women at Forty to modern poems that confront the metaphysical as the author enters the later stages of her life. "Gernes' love of language is evident in every poem in this collection," wrote Janet St. John in Booklist. Carolyn Egolf, writing on the Church & Synagogue Library Association Web site, noted that "most readers, regardless of preferences in poetry styles, will find this collection worth reading and pondering."



Booklist, May 1, 2006, Janet St. John, review of What You Hear in the Dark: New and Selected Poems, p. 65.

MBR Bookwatch, August, 2006, Nancy Lorraine, review of What You Hear in the Dark.


Church & Synagogue Library Association Web site (April 6, 2008), review of What You Hear in the Dark.

University of Notre Dame Web site, (April 6, 2008), faculty profile of author.

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