"I really enjoy writing novels. It's like the ocean. You can just build a boat and take off." -- Denis Johnson
Denis Hale Johnson (born 1949) is an American author who is known for his short-story collection Jesus' Son (1992) and his novel Tree of Smoke (2007), which won the National Book Award. He also writes plays, poetry and non-fiction.
"All the modern verse plays, they're terrible; they're mostly about the poetry. It's more important that the play is first.""I didn't finish the stories until we went to the Philippines and I got malaria. I couldn't work and I didn't have any money, but I had seven stories. So I wrote three or four more.""I think it's silly for anyone to think you could write under the influence, but if they'd like to think that, I'd like to keep the legend alive. Maybe I was under the influence when I wrote Jesus' Son and I just didn't know it.""I was probably 35 when I wrote the first story. The voice is kind of a mix in that it has a young voice, but it's also someone who's looking back. I like that kind of double vision.""I'd met a woman and I got married, but the money ran out right away. I hadn't had a job for seven months, and it just came over me that I was never going to work again. It hit me.""If you take a lie and allow your desire for the truth, you'll end up with some truth - not fact, but something that gets you closer to the truth. That's what we want. When we go to a play, we need to be assured that the experience we're having.""If you write fiction, you're by yourself. There are certain advantages to that in that you don't have to explain anything to anybody. But when you get in with others who share the loneliness of the whole enterprise, you're not lonely anymore.""In the plays - that's where I go crazy. But my prose has a much lighter touch; it's not trying to thrill with language, just to be more truthful. I'm not concerned with the accuracy of anything. We don't get to the truth of anything with facts.""What's funny about Jesus' Son is that I never even wrote that book, I just wrote it down. I would tell these stories and people would say, You should write these things down.""When I'm writing for Esquire, my conscious thought is, I'm not writing for American Scholar.""You're under pressure when you produce facts. You're working with facts in journalism, but you're under all kinds of formal constraints; there are expectations."
Johnson was born in 1949 in Munich, West Germany. He holds an MFA degree from the Iowa Writers' Workshop University of Iowa, where he has also returned to teach. He received a Whiting Writer’s Award in 1986 and a Lannan Fellowship in Fiction in 1993.
Johnson first came to prominence after the publication of his short story collection Jesus' Son (1992), which was adapted into the 1999 film of the same name, which was named one of the top ten films of the year by The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and Roger Ebert. Johnson has a cameo role in the film as a man who has been stabbed in the eye by his wife.
Johnson's plays have been produced in San Francisco, Chicago, New York, and Seattle. He is the Resident Playwright of Campo Santo, the resident theater company at Intersection for the Arts in San Francisco.
In 2006-2007, Johnson held the Mitte Chair in Creative Writing at Texas State University in San Marcos, Texas.
Johnson is twice divorced and lives with his third wife, Cindy Lee, in Arizona and Idaho. Johnson has three children, two of whom he homeschooled; in October, 1997 he wrote an article for Salon.com in defense of homeschooling.