Denis Johnson to read from his works at the Blanton Auditorium


The Associated Press

Denis Johnson speaks on a panel at the 2008 Flair Symposium on “Building the Archive.” Other panelists included Lee Blessing, Tim O’Brien, and Amy Tan. Photo by Anthony Maddaloni. (Photo Courtesy of the Harry Ransom Center)


Ricky Stein

Denis Johnson, one of the greatest writers of his generation will return to the UT campus for a reading of his work at the Blanton Museum Auditorium on Thursday.

“It’s the literary equivalent of having Vince Young back on campus,” James Magnuson, director of the Michener Center for Writers, sponsors of the event, said.

Johnson was born in Munich in 1949 and grew up abroad. At 19 he published his first volume of poetry, titled “The Man Among the Seals,” which instantly drew attention in the literary world.

After earning an MFA at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Johnson suffered from addiction to drugs and alcohol, an experience he documented in his 1973 New Yorker essay titled “Homeless and High.” Johnson rebounded, publishing two more poetry volumes: “Inner Weather” and “The Incognito Lounge and Other Poems,” which was selected by Mark Strand for the National Poetry Series in 1982.

His numerous literary awards also include a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1986 and the National Book Award in 2007 for his novel “Tree of Smoke.”

“We periodically poll the students for suggestions about who to include in our reading series, and he was always among the most requested,” Marla Akin, senior program coordinator for the Michener Center, said. “Frankly, he could read from the phone book — do they still print phone books? — and his great inflection and complete lack of pretension would entertain everyone.”

Johnson will be welcomed as a familiar figure at the Michener Center. Between the spring of 1998 and the fall of 2004, he spent four semesters as a visiting faculty member, usually hosting a fiction workshop and a readings course on contemporary fiction.

In 2010, his personal papers were acquired by the Harry Ransom Center, which also houses the archives of distinguished writers such as Norman Mailer, Tim O’Brien, James Joyce and Samuel Beckett.

“Johnson is undoubtedly one of the most important and talented authors writing today,” Megan Barnard, assistant director for acquisitions and administration for the Ransom Center, said. “We’re very excited that he’s returning to the University of Texas at Austin for this program with the Michener Center. Students won’t want to miss this opportunity to hear from one of the most engaging writers of our time.”

Johnson is also the author of the cult favorite 1992 short story collection “Jesus’ Son,” which was adapted into a film of the same name starring Denis Leary, Jack Black, Dennis Hopper and Holly Hunter. Johnson’s latest novel, “Train Dreams,” was a finalist for the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for fiction.

The 7:30 p.m. reading is free to the public, but seating is limited.

Printed on Thursday, October 25, 2012 as: Denis Johnson to visit campus