Denis Johnson (1949 - 2017)

Denis-JohnsonDenis Johnson, the award-winning poet, novelist, and playwright whose works include Jesus' Son, Tree of Smoke, and Train Dreams, died Wednesday at the age of 67.

Johnson's work often revolved around addiction and the subculture of drugs, subjects he knew from his own experience. His 1992 short story collection Jesus' Son - its title borrowed from the Velvet Underground's song, "Heroin" - depicted the self-wrought disasters and degradation of a series of misfits and users. The book's frankness and the clarity of his prose attracted attention, praise, and notoriety, as well as comparisons to William S. Burroughs and Johnson's one-time teacher, Raymond Carver.

Tree of Smoke, Johnson's 2007 novel about covert operations during the Vietnam war, won the National Book Award and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. At the time of its publication, Amazon's Tom Nissley described it as "crowded with the desperate people, always short of salvation, who are Johnson's specialty.... Not one of its 614 pages lacks a sentence or an observation that could set you back on your heels." His novella Train Dreams was also a Pulitzer finalist in 2012, though no prize for fiction was awarded that year.

In all, Johnson authored over 20 works spanning fiction, journalism, poetry, and plays. "To me the writing is all one thing, or maybe I should say it's all nothing," he once said. "The truth is, I just write sentences."

In a statement, Jonathan Galassi - president of Johnson's publisher, Farrar, Strauss & Giroux - said "Denis was one of the great writers of his generation. He wrote prose with the imaginative concentration and empathy of the poet he was."

Other details of his passing are currently unavailable.


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