Johnson, Denis

Johnson, Denis, 1949–2017, American writer, b. Munich, Germany, where his father was a diplomat; B.A. Univ. of Iowa, 1971, M.F.A. Iowa Writers' Workshop, 1974. Years of drinking and taking drugs ended in the early 1980s, when he began turning out a stream of novels, short stories, poetry, and nonfiction. He is best known for the interlocked short stories of Jesus' Son (1991, film 1999), narrated by a drug addict drifter who travels a desolate America and describes in raw yet visionary language the lives of lost, damaged characters—addicts, criminals, drinkers, lovers who do not love—and occasionally the possibility of redemption. Similar characters (and a few of the same ones) inhabit Johnson's final book, the posthumously published short-story collection The Largesse of the Sea Maiden (2018). Johnson wrote nine novels, most notably Tree of Smoke (2007, National Book Award), a novel of the Vietnam War and espionage. His other novels include Angels (1983), Fiskadoro (1985), Already Dead (1997), Nobody Move (2009), and The Laughing Monsters (2014). He also wrote a novella, several books of poetry, and a handful of plays and screenplays.

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