Angela Sommer-Bodenburg's Autobiography
Poetry in Motion
in my crib
on the wallpaper
turn into frost
I was born December 18, in Reinbek, Germany. I soon found out that this date of birth was a kind of disadvantage for me, for I would get real presents only once a year: for my birthday. As for Christmas, I got things, which I would have gotten anyway, and which were more practical, such as thick woolen tights, lined winter boots, and the like. Back then, during those years after World War II, it really got very cold, with snow piling up high for months and, at home, there was only one coal-burning stove for heating. Perhaps, it is because of this period in my life that I now get cold so easily and cannot stand the cold at all.
At the time I was born, my parents lived in a small, first floor room, which we shared with my six-year-old brother. I have only one clear recollection of that room: I had whooping cough; and, because I had to cough all the time, my mother left the floor lamp on in order to care for me. She covered it with a cloth so that the others could sleep. However, the cloth caught fire. The burnt smell, the flames, the shouting, and the attempts to put out the fire - I still remember it vividly. Later, when I was three or four years old, we moved into an apartment house in a suburb of Hamburg.
I certainly was
a quiet child
I ask my mother
No, she says
Even as a small child, I loved to draw and paint. Later, when I could read, I discovered a completely new and fascinating world. I was quite lucky because a new public library was about to open in our neighborhood. From then on, I went to the library every day. There were times when I read several books in one afternoon. I loved to read all kinds of books: fairy tales; books with poems; rhymes and riddles; books with animals; girls´ books; adventure and detective stories… In neat handwriting, I recorded each book on my library card, its author, and the title. I had quite a stack of those library cards; however, one day, unfortunately, I threw them all away. Today, I would love to know which books I had actually read at that time.
I also started to write stories of my own, and made my own books, which I also illustrated. I used yarn to sew their pages together. I still have some of these books, but most of them were lost. Soon, my writing became so important to me that I decided to become a professional writer. To my mother, I was quite a headstrong and rather rebellious girl and, in order to educate me, she had no scruples about using drastic and cruel measures. She often did not talk to me for hours or even days. Occasionally, she locked me in the bathroom where the light was turned on and off from the outside. Then, in this small and dark room, I played with my hands and imagined that they were elephants (my thumbs were their trunks). In my imagination, I flew away with the elephants and had exciting adventures.
My father was less strict than my mother was, and what he had to say was of little significance in our family. He suffered from asthma, was often sick, and lost his job several times. He used to be an optician but had to work in a factory toward the end of his life. However, all along my father was writing poems, dramas, and novels. He was the only one in the family who encouraged me in my desire to become a writer. As for my mother, she considered writing a lost art and suggested that I should become a secretary instead.
My father was still alive to see the publishing of my first two books: Sarah with the Wolves, Poems, published by Suhrkamp Verlag, and The Little Vampire, published by Rowohlt Taschenbuch Verlag. He even joined me in my first public reading for children. Sitting in the last row, he was quite excited and beamed with joy at the end of the reading when the children bought books and asked me for my autograph. Not long afterwards, he passed away.
Since then, I sometimes imagine my father being somewhere in the universe watching me and sharing in my joy. As for my mother, she has never found a positive attitude toward my creative work and, even today, she still considers my writing the work of a scribbler.
Just come to me!
I´m made of stone
Only, I have a crack in my middle
now I fall into pieces
I did not, of course, become a freelance author right away. For twelve years, I earned my living as a teacher of first through fourth graders. I had chosen this profession only after giving it a great deal of thought and giving myself quite a few headaches. Even as a teacher, I never stopped writing. It was wonderfully encouraging for me when renowned literary magazines began to publish my poems and short stories, and when I was invited to compete for the Leonce and Lena Award in Darmstadt. One of the jurors was Hilde Domin whose poetry was the subject of a paper I had prepared as a student.
As a teacher of a primary class, I was particularly ambitious to turn all of my students into enthusiastic book readers; and this would lead to the history of The Little Vampire. There were some students whom I could not move to read books. When talking to them, I found out what kind of books they would like to read voluntarily. They told me that books should be funny, full of suspense, and a little bit scary, too. Therefore, I wrote the first chapter of The Little Vampire and, without telling them that I was the author, I read it to my class. When I had finished reading, my students pressed me to read more about these unlikely friends. However, I could not do this because I had only written this one chapter at that time!
Later on, finding a publishing house for The Little Vampire turned out to be no easy task. Luckily, the editor of the Rowohlt Taschenbuch Verlag was more open and courageous than editors of other publishing houses. Finally, in May 1979, the first volume of The Little Vampire was published. My book of poetry Sarah with the Wolves was also published at this time.
Henceforth, The Little Vampire proved to be a mixed blessing for my career as a serious author. I was pigeon-holed as the author of children´s books and, within this pigeon-hole, I was further classified as the author of vampire books. However, I actually wrote more than forty books dealing with rather different subjects, aimed at different age groups. They include poetry, short stories, radio plays, and stage plays.
I have dug pathways
always further away
until I grew a fur coat
from head to toe
and my fingers bent themselves
as I slowly
In the meantime, I had married and given birth to my daughter, Katja. The marriage did not last and, for a while, I was living with Katja alone. Eventually, I met Burghardt who became my second husband.
It was a call from Hollywood in 1991, which, for the first time in our lives, brought Burghardt and me to Los Angeles, USA. A film production company in Hollywood was interested in making a movie out of The Little Vampire. We liked the climate and the people of Southern California right away, and decided that this was the place to be. However, many unexpected hurdles had to be overcome until the production of the movie eventually started. It was not until 2000 that the movie was released worldwide.
California with its sunshine; its breathtaking beauty of nature – from the ocean, over snow-covered mountains to the desert; its easy way of life; its people of different nations and cultures who live together in tolerance - all this turned out to be a much needed liberation for me. I started to paint with great intensity and soon some of my paintings were exhibited.
Into the Open
on my desk
sheets of paper
they watch me
All right, I say
as I go happily
into the open
The poems were published 1987 by Rowohlt Verlag under the title Möwen und Wölfe aka:
Sea Gulls and Wolves, (c) Angela Sommer-Bodenburg
Translation of: Speech Disorder by Burghardt Bodenburg and Into the Open by Burghardt Bodenburg and Susan Louck
Translation of: The Mole by Daniel Atkinson
Translation of: Self-portrait with Shards by Daniel Atkinson and Susan Louck