Undated portrait. Photo courtesy of Ohio University Archives.

Inducted 2020

Born: June 21, 1916, Eminence, Kentucky
Died: Nov. 14, 1987, Athens, Ohio

Hollis Spurgeon Summers Jr. wrote many novels, collections of poetry, and short stories during an award-winning career teaching English at Georgetown College, the University of Kentucky and Ohio University.

Summers was born in the Henry County town of Eminence to Hollis Spurgeon Summers Sr., a Baptist minister, and Hazel (Holmes) Summers. He grew up in Campbellsville, Louisville and Madisonville, where he graduated from high school. Summers earned his bachelor’s degree from Georgetown College (1937), a master’s from the Bread Loaf School of English at Middlebury College in Vermont (1943) and a Ph.D. from the University of Iowa (1948).

City Limit (1948) was the first of his five published novels. His short story collection How They Chose the Dead: Stories was published in 1973. Many of Summers’ tales were set in Kentucky. A frequent theme was the conflict between religion and romantic love. After leaving Kentucky for Ohio, Summers focusing on poetry and published six collections.

He edited the anthology Kentucky Story (1954) and, with Edgar Wahn, wrote the textbook Literature: An Introduction (1960). He also wrote the suspense novel Teach You A Lesson (1956) under the pseudonym Jim Hollis.

Summers began his teaching career at Holmes High School in Covington, then spent five years at his alma mater, Georgetown College, before joining the University of Kentucky’s English faculty, 1949-1959. During that decade, he and colleague Robert Hazel taught and mentored students who would become famous Kentucky writers, including Wendell Berry, James Baker Hall, Ed McClanahan and Gurney Norman.

Summers was distinguished professor of the year in UK’s College of Fine Arts in 1959. He left UK that year for Ohio University, where he was named the university’s distinguished professor in 1964. Summers spent the rest of his teaching career at Ohio, retiring in 1986. He was a National Endowment for the Arts fellow in 1974 and a Fulbright lecturer at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand, in 1978. Ohio University Press administers the Hollis Summers Poetry Prize, which has a $1,000 cash prize.

Summers died after a long illness and is buried at Millersburg Cemetery in Bourbon County, Kentucky. He was married to Laura Clarke Summers, who died in 2001. They had two sons: Hollis S. Summers III and David Clarke Summers.

Selected bibliography

Novels and stories:
City Limit (1948)
Brighten the Corner (1952)
The Weather of February (1957)
The Day After Sunday (1968)
The Garden (1972)
How They Chose the Dead: Stories (1973)

Poetry collections:
The Walks Near Athens (1959)
Someone Else (1962)
The Peddler and Other Domestic Matters (1967)
Occupant Please Forward (1976)
Dinosaurs (1977)
After the Twelve Days (1987)

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