In memoriam: Steven Sondrup (1944-2020)

Gerald Gillespie remembers Steven Sondrup, former President of the ICLA


Colleagues visiting the ever convivial Steven Sondrup – if he were not away on a guest stint or at a congress – would find him either busy at Brigham Young University in Provo or at home further to the north in old Salt Lake City. There, too, his combined amor patriae and international verve were unmistakably on display. The huge basement of the Sondrup family home he would soon inherit was, in fact, a multitask well-equipped communications center, and an impressive radio tower in the rear garden worthy of a commercial station enabled Steven to dialogue with people around the globe.

Steven attended schools in Salt Lake City before graduating magna cum laude from the University of Utah with a BA in German. Steven brought his unbounded intellectual curiosity and formidable focus to Harvard University where he earned an MA and PhD (1974) with an emphasis in modern German and Scandinavian literature. From his dissertation came his first book, Hofmannsthal and the French Symbolist Tradition (1976), to be followed by some further two dozen volumes of monographs and edited works, across a range of modern Scandinavian and European literature, and including the proceedings of several major conferences of the International Comparative Literature Association (ICLA).

Already as of 1973, precociously polyglot Steven became Professor of Comparative Literature and Scandinavian Studies at Brigham Young University, and soon was attracted into the lively cosmopolitan scholarly activities of ICLA as whose western hemisphere Treasurer he served from 2000 to 2004. In addition to positions in several important regional and national journals, he twice served in the demanding job of Editor of the ICLA Bulletin (1988-2000, 2006-2010) which, in print and electronically, went out to hundreds of libraries and some 7,000 members worldwide. This exemplary service convinced the membership of ICLA to elect Steven twice to the yet more demanding job of co-Secretary General (2004-2007, 2007-2010) and thus almost inevitably as President (2010-2013) and Honorary President for life (2013 ff).

Steven’s interest in Scandinavian authors and topics made him an ideal leader for the special contingent of scholars inside and outside the Nordic countries that designed and has begun implementing an ambitious research program on a regional basis, analogous to work on several cross-cultural subseries in ICLA’s pioneer super-series Comparative History of Literatures in European Languages. The first volume of the Scandinavian subseries, organized around spatial nodes, has come out in 2019 (; the second volume, expected in 2021, is structured around temporal nodes; and the last volume will be on figural nodes. Readers wanting to explore Steven’s larger personal career as a scholar can consult his just published collection titled Concepts and Contexts: A Retrospective (2020), bringing 28 selected essays of his over several decades in their original chronological order.

Steven’s youthful service as a Mormon missionary in Germany and Italy probably first sparked his enthusiasm for experiencing cultures everywhere. Many years and voyages later, as a sage leader of ICLA, he demonstrated a truly catholic verve (small c !) for supporting new research initiatives and helping fulfill the promise of ICLA’s steady expansion of its collective research capacity onto a truly global plane. Steven continued the tradition of ICLA presidents in fostering both openness to the actual diversity of cultures and the ability to describe their key features, including — but also for the modern researcher regardless of — the ruling political myths of particular places and eras.

Gerald Gillespie (Stanford University)