Award-winning author Denis Johnson dies at age 67

ET.1119.Johnson.1–– Author Denis Johnson, writer of Tree of Smoke, published by, Farrar, Straus and
Author Denis Johnson
(Cindy Johnson)

Celebrated author Denis Johnson died at age 67 Wednesday, his agent Nicole Aragi confirmed.

Johnson was best known for the slender story collection “Jesus’ Son.” Published in 1992, its bold and unpretentious stories of marginalized characters struck a chord with readers, writers and professors. It became a staple of creative writing programs.

His next major work was a departure: the epic, 600-page novel “Tree of Smoke.” The labyrinthine, poetic and powerful book about a CIA agent and the Vietnam War won the 2007 National Book Award.

Johnson, who was also a playwright and poet, was born in Munich, Germany, in 1949. The son of a U.S. State Department employee, he was raised in Tokyo, Manila and Washington, D.C. He attended the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where he studied under Raymond Carver. He cited Walt Whitman as a significant influence.


In his younger years, he struggled with substance abuse, like some of the characters in his fiction. He stopped drinking decades ago but was able to tap into the anxieties and voices of that milieu in his work.

He taught at several creative writing programs, including the Michener Center at the University of Texas, Austin; Boise State University; and the University of Iowa. In addition to the National Book Award, he was a Pulitzer Prize finalist for “Train Dreams” and the recipient of a Lannan Fellowship and a Whiting Award.

His most recent novel was “The Laughing Monsters,” set in Sierra Leone and published in 2014.

Johnson had recently moved to Random House. Susan Kamil, Random House publisher, said in a statement, “Random House mourns the loss of Denis Johnson, a giant in the world of letters, a writer like no other.”


This post will be updated.


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