Society

Author Denis Johnson Dead At 67 (Photo)

| by Sean Kelly

Author Denis Johnson, known for his short story collection "Jesus' Son," has died at the age of 67. 

Johnson's death was confirmed by Jeff Seroy, a spokesperson for his publisher Farrar Strauss and Giroux.

"Denis Johnson passed away [May 25] at the age of 67. We are deeply saddened by this loss and are honored to have published his work," the publisher wrote in a social media post. No further details were given on the cause of death.

"Denis was one of the great writers of his generation," FSG president and publisher Jonathan Galassi said in a statement to NPR. "He wrote prose with the imaginative concentration and empathy of the poet he was."

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Novelist Nathan Englander called "Jesus' Son" "brutally honest and painfully beautiful."

"He doesn't ever romanticize these dark settings while leaving his narrator open to the fact that, despite it all, we may live in a heartbreakingly romantic world," Englander said in 2007. "With dialogue that feels like you're getting it verbatim and stripped-down prose, he writes simple, honest stories that have the bigness of great work."

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times in 2014, Johnson summed up his writing style.

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"When I write, I don't think in terms of themes -- or think in any terms, really," he said at the time. 

"I'm making what T.S. Eliot called 'quasi-musical decisions.' I'm just improvising and adapting, and in that case I suspect the story's course reflects the process of trying to make it ... I get in a teacup and start paddling across the little pond and say, 'In seven weeks, I'll land on Mars.' Five years later I'm still going in circles. When I reach the shore in spitting distance of where I started, it's a colossal triumph."

Johnson, who wrote around 20 books during his career, was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize, had traveled to countries like Somalia and Liberia for journalistic work. 

"I went to Uganda less for research than for inspiration," he noted of one particular trip surrounding his book "The Laughing Monsters."

"Sights and sounds, voices. All I did was hang around and make notes on a small recorder about whatever seemed interesting. For 'Tree of Smoke' I spent only three weeks in Vietnam for a 600-page book. I visited Nicaragua briefly, and those notes went into 'The Stars at Noon.' Since I select what appeals to me, to my soul or my ear or whatever part does the selecting, I'm not surprised if different settings seem facets all reflecting one image. I don't know what the image is. Something that's always changing and always staying the same."

Sources: NPR, Los Angeles Times / Photo credit: Pixabay, Cindy Johnson/FSG Books via Los Angeles Times

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