A native son of Chicago, John W. Fountain is an award-winning columnist, journalist, professor and author of the memoir, True Vine: A Young Black Man’s Journey of Faith, Hope and Clarity (Public Affairs, 2003) and Dear Dad: Reflections on Fatherhood (WestSide Press, 2011). His essay, “The God Who Embraced Me” appears in National Public Radio’s book, This I Believe (Henry Holt Books, 2006), as part of the nationally acclaimed series initially started by Edward R. Morrow. Fountain is a professor of journalism at Roosevelt University and a weekly freelance columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times. In 2016, 2014 and 2011, Fountain received the Peter Lisagor Award for Exemplary Journalism for columns published in the Sun-Times. Fountain won the Lisagor Award in the category of news column or commentary among daily newspapers with a circulation of 250,000 or more from the Chicago Headline Club—the largest local chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists in the country. In 2014, Fountain was awarded best column by the Illinois Press Association.

In 2015, Fountain was a Lisagor Award finalist for online best Feature for a series on a Little League Baseball team in suburban Chicago: The Sweet Season. In 2013, he was a finalist for the National Association of Black Journalists “Salute to Excellence Award” in the magazine category for his first-person feature “Murder Was the Case” in Ebony (July 2012). In 2012, Fountain received the Illinois Associated Press Editors Association Award and the Chicago Journalists Association Sarah Brown Boyden Award for his column in the Sun-Times.

In a journalism career that has spanned more than 30 years, Fountain has been a reporter at some of the top newspapers in this country. From 2000 to 2003, he was a national correspondent for The New York Times. Based in Chicago, Fountain covered a 12-state region. He also has been a staff writer at the Washington Post and the Chicago Tribune. He has written for the Wall Street Journal, Chicago SunTimes, Modesto Bee, Pioneer Press Newspapers in suburban Chicago and the Champaign News-Gazette.

He was formerly a tenured full professor at his alma mater, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and visiting scholar at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Evanston. In addition to working as a national correspondent, Fountain has been a crime and courts reporter as well as a general assignment reporter and features writer.

Fountain was a 2009 fellow at the Knight Digital Multimedia Center at the University of California-Berkeley. At Roosevelt, he teaches Media Writing, Personal Journalism/Memoir Writing, Convergence Journalism, News Reporting, Literary Journalism and Special Projects courses.

In 1999, Fountain was one of 12 American journalists selected for the prestigious Michigan Journalism Fellowship for the 1999-2000 class at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Fountain studied inner-city poverty and race. Fountain earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in journalism from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Over his career, Fountain has won numerous honors for feature writing from the National Association of Black Journalists, the Associated Press, and the American Association of University Women, among others. In 2003, he was a finalist in feature writing and sports writing for the Peter Lisagor Award for excellence in journalism. He continues to be an invited guest on local and national radio and television news shows and has appeared on National Public Radio, Chicago Public Radio, WGN-TV, NBC-Channel 5, ABC-Channel-7, WTTW’s Chicago Tonight and numerous radio shows.

Fountain frequently speaks across the country to inner-city youths, at schools and other groups. He shares his inspirational story of going from poverty and the urban mean streets of Chicago’s West Side to the top of his profession. “True Vine” is his remarkable story—of his childhood in a neighborhood heading south; of his strong-willed grandparents, who founded a church (called True Vine) that sought to bring the word of God to their neighbors; and of his religious awakening that gave him the determination to rebuild his life.

Inspired by Fountain’s essay for the acclaimed National Public Radio’s This I Believe series, “Dear Dad” is a compilation of true narratives written by some of the nation’s finest journalists and writers. Fountain’s most recent book projects are: “No Place for Me: Letters to the Church in America” and “Son of the Times: Life, Laughter, Love and Coffee,” a book of essays.

GO BANG! Magazine: When did you first become interested in writing?

John W. Fountain: I have always loved writing, ever since I was a little boy growing up on the west side of Chicago in a place commonly known as K-Town. I loved writing poetry on the days when it was too cold or rainy to play outside. In elementary school, in creative writing, I would write fictional stories about talking leaves and all sorts of things. We would read those stories in our writing circle and occasionally I would look up and see my classmates laughing and engrossed in the stories I read. It was an amazing high and introduced me early on to the power of storytelling.

GO BANG! Magazine: Being an award-winning columnist, journalist and author, you’re fluent in various writing styles. What is it about writing that motivates you to write?

John W. Fountain: What I most love about writing is the creative process. It is the ability to channel what comes from the heart, mind and soul onto blank pages. Over time I have learned that writing is less about following the rules of structure and mechanics—all the things they teach you in school. Not that those things don’t matter. It’s just that sometimes they can get in the way of the writing process, obstruct creativity and inhibit the gift. Writing is like oxygen. It enables me to breathe, live, feel. It provides visibility. It says that I exist and that I am not invisible. Writing is a transaction with the soul.

GO BANG! Magazine: I became familiar with you through a poem that you posted on Facebook in April that was about the current COVID-19 pandemic. Please explain to our readers what inspired you to write that poem about the ignorance of people, surrounding COVID-19.

John W. Fountain: We are our brother’s keeper and we are connected, affected, impacted by our decisions and by the decisions of others in a global society. This world pandemic has illustrated that in a very real way. Yet, so much misinformation exists. My poem was motivated by my desire to share some truth and to present it in a way that people might be able to receive it. We truly are all in this together. The scripture says, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.” I hope my poem, even if in some small way, helped sound the trumpet for us to heed the call to do what’s necessary to protect ourselves, our families and each other.

GO BANG! Magazine: You’re also a professor at a prominent university in Chicago, teaching various writing and journalism classes. Why is it important to you to pass on your knowledge of writing?

John W. Fountain: The cemetery is filled with unrealized dreams, with potential and the best of intentions to help others achieve their own dreams, and with talent not fully used. My belief is that whatever talents or gifts we have, the totality of our God-given abilities, resources and wisdom are to be spent while here on earth to help others. In other words, we must empty ourselves; take nothing with us to the grave. By helping others achieve their dreams—whether through writing or some other craft or profession—we ensure our own legacy. We also leave the world potentially as a little better place—at least our corner of it.

GO BANG! Magazine: As an author, you’ve written a few books including “No Place for Me: Letters to the Church in America” and “Son of the Times: Life, Laughter, Love and Coffee.” Please describe to our readers what these two books are about.

John W. Fountain: “No Place for Me” is a spiritual memoir. It’s about my journey as the grandson of a Pentecostal pastor and my turning away from the church I once loved that I now believe has no discernible message for what ails the 21st century black male soul. It is about how I find in the church today no place for me and no longer are a member, but also my rediscovery of my place as a member in the body of Christ.

“Son of The Times” is a collection of some of my best newspaper columns written over the last decade.

GO BANG! Magazine: Another set of books that you’ve authored are “True Vine: A Young Black Man’s Journey of Faith, Hope and Clarity” and “Dear Dad: Reflections on Fatherhood.” These are both very interesting and personal topics. Please point out two or three “take away” points from each book.

John W. Fountain: From “True Vine”: Never stop dreaming or you start to die; There is always hope; Most of my life, I later realized, I wasn’t poor, just broke.

From “Dear Dad”: I am not my father and therefore not destined to repeat his mistakes; To move forward from the hurts and sins my father committed against me or my family, I must learn to forgive him; As a man, as a father, I must learn to forgive myself; It’s never too late.

GO BANG! Magazine: What advice would you give to a youth that is interested in pursuing a career in journalism, but may be unsure of how they may be perceived in the industry, as a minority?

John W. Fountain: I would advise any young person interested in pursuing a career in journalism to study and absorb every lesson in class, to hone their craft, to seek out professional journalists who can serve as mentors, to read voraciously, to never allow anyone to squelch your dreams or passion, and to never give up.

GO BANG! Magazine: Are there any projects that you are currently working on that you’d like to inform our readers about.

John W. Fountain: I am currently working on a project titled, “Unforgotten.” It is the story of 51 murdered Chicago women over two decades that appears to be the work of at least one serial killer who strangled them to death and left their bodies in Chicago alleys and vacant lots, sometimes in trashcans and sometimes set on fire. The project seeks to humanize the victims by telling the stories of each woman beyond the circumstances of their death. Portraits of life.

GO BANG! Magazine: How has knowing your heritage, which originates in Ghana, affected you as a black Chicagoan?

John W. Fountain: Being aware of my West African heritage grounds me. It reminds me that I am rooted not only in the blood-and sweat-baked soil of the Deep South, where my ancestors tilled the plantations, but also in the royal heritage of the Motherland, where we were kings and queens long before the cruelty of racism and slavery. This forms my paradigm as a writer—the reality of being an inhabitant in the town of Bigger Thomas, but a native son of the land of Kunta Kinte.

GO BANG! Magazine: In conclusion, the COVID-19 pandemic has caught the world off guard. How are you dealing with it?

John W. Fountain: Amid this global pandemic, I am doing everything I can to stay safe, following social distancing guidelines, sanitizing grocery packages, basically keeping me and my household safe as best I can from outside contaminants and danger. Mostly, I’m listening to the scientists rather than the government.

YOU CAN FOLLOW JOHN W. FOUNTAIN AT THE FOLLOWING LINKS:

FB: @authorJohnwfountain; johnwfountain
Twitter: @JohnWFountain
Website: http://www.johnwfountain.com
Sun-Times page: https://chicago.suntimes.com/authors/john-fountain



Pierre A. Evans is a freelance writer of Entertainment, Music, Art, Culture, Fashion and Current Events, and previously for SoulTrain.com, NDigo.com, ChicagoDefender.com, EmpireRadioMagazine.com, and UrbanMuseMag.com, an author, singer/songwriter, actor, model, poet, dancer, and DJ. He is also the owner of Pinnacle Entertainment Productions. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter, and on Instagram

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