John W. Fountain

Roosevelt University

Biography

 

A native son of Chicago, John W. Fountain is an award-winning journalist, professor and author of the memoir, True Vine: A Young Black Man’s Journey of Faith Hope and Clarity (Public Affairs, 2003), paperback March 2005.


In a journalism career that has spanned 20 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 Sun-Times, Modesto Bee, Pioneer Press Newspapers in suburban Chicago and the Champaign News-Gazette.


Fountain is currently a professor of journalism at Roosevelt University in Chicago. Until recently, he was a tenured full professor at his alma mater, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Professor Fountain was formerly a 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. Described by peers and readers as a gifted storyteller, Fountain has won the praise of colleagues and the community for his insightful writing and reporting. Fountain has won numerous honors for feature writing from the National Association of Black Journalists, the Associated Press, the American Association of University Women, the Society of Professional Journalists, and the New York Time’s Publisher’s Award for his coverage of the Mississippi River Flood, among others. In 2003, he was a finalist in feature writing and sports writing for the Peter Lisagor Award for excellence in journalism.


Fountain frequently speaks to inner-city youths 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. Fountain earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. 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. In 2005, he was a finalist for the National Association of Black Journalists award for commentary.


Fountain grew up on some of the meanest streets in Chicago, where drugs, crime, decay, and broken homes consigned so many black children to a life of despair and self-destruction. A father at seventeen, a college dropout at nineteen, a welfare case soon after, Fountain was on the verge of giving up all hope. One thing saved him—his faith, his own true vine.


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; of his mother, herself a teenage parent, whose truncated dreams help nurture bigger dreams in him; of his friends and cousins, whose youthful exuberance was extinguished by the burdens they faced; and of his religious awakening that gave him the determination to rebuild his life.


Fountain’s stories and essays continue to appear in news publications across the country and abroad—including his poignant essay, “No Place for Me" on his disenchantment with the "Black Church," a commentary first published in the Washington Post and subsequently in newspapers across the country, including the Dallas Morning News, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Chicago Sun-Times, Louisville Courier and the Biloxi Sun Herald, among others and which sparked discussions across the country. More recently, as the Paul Simon essayist for Illinois Issues, his story and accompanying photos were published by the magazine in May 2007 and released this past fall as a monograph.


He is at work on his second book to be published in June by Third World Press, “Sometimes I Feel Like a Fatherless Child”— a project spawned by his NPR essay—featuring Fountain’s own writings on the issue of “fatherlessness” and also featuring a compilation of essays from noted journalists and writers around the country. Fountain also is at work on two other book projects, “No Place for Me: A Letter to the Church at Americaand “A Mighty Burning Fire,” a book of essays.

"There is a need for journalists of faith, for reporters and writers who possess craft and conviction, and who can examine the world through the prism of hope —no matter how bleak the circumstances. There is a need for journalists who happen to be Christian, a need for all to understand that doing good journalism does not require that you leave your heart, your hope and your heritage of faith at the curb of American newsrooms. There is a need to know that being a journalist and being a Christian are not at odds, that both, at their core, embrace the principles of truth, hope, integrity, commitment and faith. The World Journalism Institute is lighting the way and this conference is an opportunity for every aspiring journalist of faith to learn from and share in the experiences of respected journalists who also carry the Christian flame." - John W. Fountain