Johnson, Alexandra 1949-
JOHNSON, Alexandra 1949-
ADDRESSES: Home—11 Chestnut St., Medford, MA 02155; fax: 781-393-0923. Agent—Elaine Markson Literary Agency, Inc., 44 Greenwich Ave., New York, NY 10011.
CAREER: Christian Science Monitor, Boston, MA, writer and assistant literary editor, 1976-82; freelance writer, 1982—. Harvard University, instructor in creative writing at university extension, 1990-98; Wellesley College, creative writing teacher. WGBHTV, writer, 1986, member of televised book group.
MEMBER: International PEN.
AWARDS, HONORS: Nonfiction award, Jerard Fund of International PEN, 1990; James Conway Award, Harvard University, 1994.
The Hidden Writer: Diaries and the Creative Life, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1997.
Leaving a Trace: On Keeping a Journal: The Art of Transforming a Life into Stories, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 2001.
Contributor of articles and reviews to magazines and newspapers, including the New Yorker, Nation, New York Times Book Review, Ms., and Boston Globe.
SIDELIGHTS: Alexandra Johnson once told CA: "I was born in San Francisco into a family of hidden writers, three generations of diarists. My grandmother kept a detailed diary recording her work for the Red Cross in Siberia during World War I. My mother hid her own diaries and stories in the linen closet. My aunt, a teacher of film, kept extensive diaries and wrote novels while raising three children.
"Shortly after moving into my present home in 1993, my husband and I were given a diary from 1885. It had belonged to the house's original occupant, a French and music teacher. The diary had been preserved by the woman's cousins. When the family had no more relatives, the diary was passed on to a neighbor, who then presented it to me, knowing that I was writing a book on diaries."
Johnson has in fact written two books on the art of diary- and journal-keeping. The Hidden Writer: Diaries and the Creative Life "assembles seven literary portraits-through-journals into a beguiling biography of the creative process," wrote a contributor to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Through the private writings of a disparate group of women, from seven-year-old Marjory Fleming to Virginia Woolf, Alice James, and May Sarton, Johnson demonstrates how creative writing flows from biography and how closely related life and work can be. Library Journal contributor Jeris Cassel found The Hidden Writer to be an "engrossing examination of the relationship between diary writing and creativity."
Leaving a Trace: On Keeping a Journal: The Art of Transforming a Life into Stories uses examples from famous diaries and journals, as well as advice Johnson offers in her writing classes, to urge readers to begin a diary or to continue keeping one even if it seems futile. According to Stephanie Dickison in The Writer, Johnson "will prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that there is nothing uninteresting about what you have to say, and that it is all leading to something that you may not understand now but will." Library Journal contributor Denise S. Sticha described the book as "beautifully written," and GraceAnne A. DeCandido in Booklist thought it "valuable in all sorts of ways for anyone looking for the right words." Cleveland Plain Dealer reviewer Karen Sandstrom wrote of Leaving a Trace, "It would be hard to imagine anyone reading this book and not wanting to run to the store to pick up a pretty new blank book—or at least begin scribbling on the back of grocery receipts and stuffing them into shoe boxes."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, January 1, 2001, GraceAnne A. DeCandido, review of Leaving a Trace: On Keeping a Journal: The Art of Transforming Life into Stories, p. 901.
Library Journal, April 1, 1997, Jeris Cassel, review of The Hidden Writer: Diaries and the Creative Life, p. 92; January 1, 2001, Denise S. Sticha, review of Leaving a Trace, p. 126.
New York Times Book Review, October 19, 1997, Nancy Caldwell Sorel, review of The Hidden Writer, p. 31.
Plain Dealer (Cleveland, OH), January 10, 2001, Karen Sandstrom, "Good Advice for Diary-Keepers," p. 1E.
Publishers Weekly, April 21, 1997, review of The Hidden Writer, p. 57; November 13, 2000, review of Leaving a Trace, p. 95.
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, July 3, 1997, "'The Hidden Writer' Looks Deep into the Wellsprings of Creativity," p. C2.
Writer, May, 2002, Stephanie Dickison, review of Leaving a Trace, p. 50.*