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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Author’s strong voice crosses multiple genres

    Denis Johnson doesn’t fit neatly into one category of writing. He is prominent across three genres.

    The University of Arizona Poetry Center and the UA Prose Series presents a reading by award winning poet, playwright and novelist Johnson on April 9 at 8 p.m. The reading will take place at the Poetry Center, 1508 E. Helen Street. Johnson will read from his 2007 novel, “”Tree of Smoke.””

    Johnson became famous for his 1992 short story collection “”Jesus’ Son,”” which reads more like poetry than short stories. The short stories revolve around a heroin-addicted character and plays around with the idea that this addict is also a prophet. “”Jesus’ Son”” was made into a film in 1999.

    “”There is not a word wasted,”” said Jason Brown, Director of Undergraduate Studies in the English Department. “”The book ‘Jesus’ Son’ relies entirely on voice and a kind of absurd reality.””

    A mythical character is also seen in Johnson’s novel, “”Tree of Smoke,”” which won the National Book Award for fiction. The 614-page novel focuses on a man named Skip Sands who joins the CIA in 1965. Sands moves to Vietnam during the US involvement there, but his innocence is tarnished when he witnesses a brutal assassination of a priest by the CIA.

    “”The novel takes a certain sense of humor,”” Brown said. “”The book is visionary, mytho-poetic and has a serious sense of reality in both poetry and fiction.””

    Johnson has received many awards for his work, including a Whiting Writer’s Award and a Lannan Fellowship in Fiction. In 2002, Johnson won the Aga Khan Prize for Fiction from The Paris Review for Train Dreams.

    “”Denis Johnson is never boring,”” said Brown. “”Almost every line is a complete surprise. It is these surprises that keep you reading and keep you interested.””

    Since his first book of poetry, “”The Man Amongst the Seals,”” published in 1969, Johnson resisted the trends in poetry writing. Though he is considered to be a lyric poet, his genre goes beyond just one type. Johnson’s work is distinct in that he borrows and uses the same consistent voice in his works of fiction that he uses in his poetry.

    “”As a fiction writer, Johnson has focused on audience, which reflects in his poetry,”” said Brown. “”He wants the average reader to understand. His work is marked by a lot of density, but also a lot of clarity.””

    Today, Johnson lives a more traditional life, shuffling between his homes in Idaho and Arizona with his wife.

    “”Johnson is one of America’s most prominent living writers,”” Brown said. “”He will be remembered as such.””

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