Denis Johnson Has Passed Away at 67
The beloved author of Jesus’ Son will be dearly missed
It’s a great heartbreak that Denis Johnson, author of the beloved story collection Jesus’ Son has died at 67. Jonathan Galassi, president and publisher of FSG, disclosed that Johnson died on Wednesday, but didn’t give further details at this time.
Johnson’s sparse yet lyric prose were the ideal vessel for his hallucinatory, often violent, tales of heroin addicts roaming around rural Iowa. Among his ten novels, five poetry collections, and three plays, he also won a National Book Award for his Vietnam War epic Tree of Smoke and earned a Pulitzer nomination for the novella Train Dreams.
Whether imagining a post-nuclear dystopia (Fiskadoro), tracing the life of a turn of the century day laborer in the American West (Train Dreams), or crafting a sprawling poem set in a rundown apartment complex (“The Incognito Lounge”), Johnson’s writing was attuned to both place and people. He captured weirdos longing to get out of their little part of the world and loners who’d been passed by in changing times.
Many writers claim Jesus’ Son as indispensable, a bold artful linked collection following a protagonist named Fuckhead and his equally messed up friends, hoarding mistakes and connection throughout Iowa City. Johnson was known to claim that these stories were nothing but bar ramblings written down on napkins, cobbled together to make an advance. But Jesus’ Son is transcendent, poetic, and alive, one of the most enduring collections of contemporary literature. Symphony Space recently held an event honoring the 25th anniversary the collection, where the room was full of reverence as Billy Crudup and Chris Bauer gave readings, and Chuck Palahniuk, Victor LaValle, Michael Cunningham, and Jenny Offil discussed its inestimable influence.
On Twitter, many writers shared their favorite Denis Johnson quotes and memories.
‘And you, you ridiculous people, you expect me to help you.’ Denis Johnson.
Sometimes what I wouldn't give to have us sitting in a bar again at 9:00 a.m. telling lies to one another, far from God." ― Denis Johnson
Brilliant writer, kind, funny, good hearted Denis Johnson has died. The last sentence he wrote to me in April was, "Every breath is sweet.
This is a terrible loss. Studying with Denis Johnson was one of the best things that ever happened to me. May he rest in peace.
There's a strong and loving sense of everyone Denis Johnson left behind. Friends, students. A legacy of beautiful writing and community. RIP
We’ll leave you with the last lines of Jesus’ Son.
“All these weirdos, and me getting a little better every day right in the midst of them. I had never known, never even imagined for a heartbeat, that there might be a place for people like us.”
You can read The New York Times obituary here.