Poets

Search more than 3,000 biographies of contemporary and classic poets.

Denis Johnson

1949–2017

Born in Munich on July 1, 1949, Denis Johnson was raised in Tokyo, Manila, and the suburbs outside of Washington, D.C. He studied with Raymond Carver while earning his MFA from the University of Iowa. While still enrolled, his first collection of poetry, The Man Among the Seals (Stone Wall Press, 1969), was published.

During the next few years, Johnson published several collections of poetry, including Inner Weather (Graywolf, 1976); The Incognito Lounge (Random House, 1982), selected by Mark Strand for The National Poetry Series in 1982; and The Veil (Knopf, 1985); as well as four novels, including Angels (Knopf, 1983), which received the Sue Kauffman Prize for First Fiction from the Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters.

During this time he struggled with alcoholism and various other addictions. It was out of these experiences that he wrote his breakthrough volume of stories, Jesus' Son (Harper Perennial, 1992), which was later adapted for the screen.

Johnson's most recent book of poetry is The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations Millennium General Assembly: Poems Collected and New (Harper Perennial, 1995). Recent fiction titles include Tree of Smoke (FSG, 2007), winner of the National Book Award and and Nobody Move (FSG, 2009). In 2012, his novella, Train Dreams (FSG, 2011), was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction.

Johnson is also the author of several plays as well as a collection of essays, Seek: Reports from the Edges of America & Beyond (Harper Perennial, 2001).
About his poetry, the poet and fiction writer Raymond Carver said, "Denis Johnson's poems are driven by a ravening desire to make sense out of the life lived. The subject matter is harrowingly convincing, is nothing less than a close examination of the darker side of human conduct.”

Johnson's honors include the National Book Ward, Lannan Fellowship in Fiction, a Whiting Writer’s Award, National Poetry Series, and the Aga Khan Prize for Fiction from the Paris Review. A resident of Arizona and Idaho, he died on May 25, 2017.

Denis Johnson
Photo credit: Cindy Johnson
loading