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Biography Denis Johnson

2017 Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction

Denis Johnson is the author of the critically acclaimed collection of short stories “Jesus’ Son” and the novel “Tree of Smoke.”

Johnson was born in Munich, West Germany, the son of an American diplomat, and spent his childhood in the Philippines and Japan before returning to spend the rest of his youth in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. He is the author of nine novels, as well as numerous plays, poetry collections, a short story collection and a novella. Johnson won the National Book Award for his novel “Tree of Smoke” (2007); the novel was also a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize (2008). His short novel, “Train Dreams” (2012), was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. His most recent work, “The Laughing Monsters,” was published in 2014. Johnson’s many other honors include fellowships from the Guggenheim and Lannan Foundations, and a Whiting Award.

Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden chose Johnson based on the recommendation of a jury of distinguished authors and prominent literary critics from around the world. Of her selection, Hayden said, “Denis Johnson is a writer for our times. In prose that fuses grace with grit, he spins tale after tale about our walking wounded, the demons that haunt us, the salvation we seek. We emerge from his imagined world with profound empathy, a different perspective—a little changed.”

In March 2017 the Librarian offered the prize to Johnson, and he enthusiastically accepted—he wrote, “The list of past awardees is daunting, and I’m honored to be in such company. My head’s spinning from such great news!” Denis Johnson died on May 24, 2017.

Selected Works at the Library of Congress