Denis Johnson was born in Munich, Germany where his father worked for the State Department. Johnson grew up in the Philippines, Japan, and Washington D.C. and earned an MFA from the University of Iowa. An award-winning novelist, short story writer, and playwright, Johnson published his first collection of poems, The Man Among the Seals (1969), at the age of twenty. Subsequent collections include Inner Weather (1976), The Incognito Lounge and Other Poems (1982), and The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations Millennium General Assembly: Poems Collected and New (1995).
Johnson’s poems often depict characters on the margins of society. Alan Williamson, reviewing The Incognito Lounge and Other Poems in the New York Times Book Review deemed him “good at American voices.” Williamson continued: “[Johnson] convinces me that he suffers over the anomie he describes. He is hard on himself, as well as on the culture; and he is agonizingly aware that life can be, and has been, different from the life around him . . . he knows how to use his eyes.”
At one time addicted to drugs and alcohol, Johnson’s literary output increased significantly after he became sober. In 1973 he was homeless in Berkeley, California, an experience he recounted in a New Yorker essay“Homeless and High.”
Johnson is the author of numerous novels, including Fiskadoro (1985), Nobody Move (2009), and Tree of Smoke, winner of the 2007 National Book Award. Jesus’ Son (1992), his collection of short stories, was made into a movie of the same name.
Denis Johnson has received a Lannan Literary Award for Fiction and a Whiting Writer’s Award.