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Charles R. Johnson
Charles R. Johnson was born on this date in 1948. He is a Black scholar and author of novels, short stories, screen-and-teleplays, and essays, often with a philosophical orientation.
Charles Richard Johnson was born in Evanston, Illinois. Under the tutelage of cartoonist Lawrence Lariar, he saw his work published by the time he was seventeen years old. His two collections of cartoons were acclaimed for their subtle but pointed satire of race relations. Their success led to "Charlie's Pad," 1971 series on public television that Johnson created, co-produced, and hosted. As an undergraduate at Southern Illinois University, Johnson studied with novelist and literary theorist John Gardner, whose conception of "moral fiction"-demanding from the author a near-fanatical commitment to technique, imagination, and ethics-deeply impressed Johnson.
His first novel, Faith and the Good Thing, was published in 1974, and the acclaimed Middle Passage won the National Book Award in 1990. Johnson has published other novels, collections of short stories, and books of cartoons, as well as Turning the Wheel: Essays on Buddhism and Writing. A 1998 MacArthur Fellow and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Johnson holds a doctorate from the State University of New York at Stony Brook. He is a professor in the Department of English at the University of Washington in Seattle. In 2003, the Charles Johnson Society was inaugurated at the American Literature Association. This is a literary society devoted to scholarly papers and articles on Johnson's work and the genre of philosophical fiction in general.
Several literary studies of his work have been published; among these are Charles Johnson's Spiritual Imagination by Jonathan Little (University of Missouri Press, 1997); Charles Johnson's Novels: Writing The American Palimpsest by the late Rudolph P. Byrd (Indiana University Press, 2005); Charles Johnson's Fiction by William R. Nash (University of Illinois Press, 2003); Understanding Charles Johnson, by the late Gary Storhoff (the University of South Carolina Press, 2004); Charles Johnson: The Novelist as Philosopher, edited by Marc C. Conner and William R. Nash (University Press of Mississippi, 2007); and Charles Johnson in Context by Linda Furgerson Selzer (the University of Massachusetts Press, 2009).
After Johnson retired from teaching, a festschrift book celebrating the author's work was published in India, Charles Johnson: Embracing the World, edited by Nibir K. Ghosh and American poet E. Ethelbert Miller (Authors press, 2011).
Photograph by Mary Randlett, American novelist, short story writer, essayist, and cartoonist.