Johnson, Greg 1953–
Johnson, Greg 1953–
PERSONAL: Born July 13, 1953, in San Francisco, CA; son of Raymond F. (co-owner of a construction company) and Jo Ann (co-owner of a construction company; maiden name, Untersee) Johnson. Education: Southern Methodist University, B.A., 1973, M.A., 1975; Emory University, Ph.D., 1980. Politics: Liberal Democrat.
ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o Author Mail, Wadsworth Publishing Company, 10 Davis Dr., Belmont, CA 94002.
CAREER: Writer and professor. Kennesaw State College, Marietta, GA, associate professor of English, 1989–; writer. Also taught at Emory University and the University of Mississippi.
MEMBER: PEN, National Book Critics Circle.
AWARDS, HONORS: O. Henry Award for short fiction, Doubleday, 1986; named Georgia Author of the Year, Georgia Writers Association, for Distant Friends, 1991; National Endowment for the Humanities summer stipend, 1993.
Distant Friends, Ontario Review Press (Princeton, NJ), 1990.
A Friendly Deceit, Johns Hopkins University Press (Baltimore, MD), 1992.
I Am Dangerous: Stories, Johns Hopkins University Press (Baltimore, MD), 1996.
Last Encounter with the Enemy: Stories, Johns Hopkins University Press (Baltimore, MD), 2004.
Emily Dickinson: Perception and the Poet's Quest (criticism), University of Alabama Press (University, AL), 1985.
Invisible Writer: A Biography of Joyce Carol Oates, Dutton (New York, NY), 1998.
(With Thomas R. Arp) Perrine's Story and Structure, Harcourt College Publishers (Fort Worth, TX), 10th edition, 2002.
(With Thomas R. Arp) Perrine's Sound and Sense: An Introduction to Poetry, Thomson/Wadsworth (Boston, MA), 11th edition, 2005.
(Compiler, with Thomas R. Arp) Perrine's Literature: Structure, Sound and Sense, Thomson/Wadsworth (Boston, MA), 9th edition, 2006.
Pagan Babies (novel), Dutton (New York, NY), 1993.
Aid and Comfort: Poems (poems), University Press of Florida (Gainesville, FL), 1993.
Sticky Kisses (novel), Alyson Books (Los Angeles, CA), 2001.
Contributor to periodicals, including the Georgia Review, Virginia Quarterly Review, and the New York Times Book Review.
SIDELIGHTS: Fiction writer Greg Johnson garnered critical acclaim with his story collections, Distant Friends and A Friendly Deceit, and with his novels, Pagan Babies and Sticky Kisses. "My work deals with the complexities of human relationships; very little is autobiographical, as I enjoy exploring the consciousness of fictional characters seemingly antithetical to myself," Johnson once told CA. "In my two collections, the stories are equally divided between male and female protagonists and focus on people of all ages and backgrounds." Reviewers noted the author creates stories that handle subjects such as unhappy relationships, childhood cruelty, and suicide without melodrama. In a Washington Post Book World assessment of Distant Friends, Dennis Drabelle called the collection "a polished first book," and noted that Johnson "writes precisely and dramatically, with an ear cocked for the momentum that can build up within the borders of a single sentence." Carol Verderese, writing in the New York Times Book Review, remarked on the book's "elegiac tone" and noted that the stories "have a breathtaking cumulative power." Reviewing A Friendly Deceit, Pinckney Benedict wrote in the Chicago Tribune Books that Johnson "proves his mettle as a writer" with his second collection. The best stories in the book, according to Elizabeth Ferber in the New York Times Book Review, are the ones in which "Johnson offers keen observations on contemporary life."
Johnson's novel, Pagan Babies, "deals with a man and a woman growing up Catholic in America and explores in detail their close but often turbulent relationship over three decades," the author told CA. As the novel progresses, Janice and Clifford's friendship weathers their sexual encounters, Janice's miscarriage and abortions, Clifford's discovery that he is gay, and their attraction to the same man. According to Carolyn See in the Los Angeles Times, Pagan Babies is "an honest look at several varieties of hell, from the third grade to grim gay bars, but it's suffused with a wistful hope of Heaven." Bernard Welt wrote in the Washington Post Book World that Pagan Babies is "a first novel that manages to combine deeply serious intent with compulsive readability," and that the book "has all the traditional virtues of well-crafted fiction." Though Nicola Griffith in Southern Voice found Johnson's use of alternating viewpoints and hindsight "a short story teller's technique." The critic noted that midway through the novel "Johnson's technique starts to make sense…. What started as a jerky, not very sympathetic portrait of a gay man and a straight woman who seem to have nothing in common, becomes a powerful and compassionate examination of the way people need each other."
Johnson commented to CA about Pagan Babies: "Although I went to a Catholic school like Janice and Clifford, the novel is not really autobiographical; they lead much more dramatic, and often traumatic, lives than I do. I intended for their experience as rebellious outsiders to reflect much of the turmoil in American culture generally during the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s." After Johnson finished the novel, "I thought about Janice and Clifford … and thought that I had split myself apart," he told Rebecca Ranson in the Southern Voice. "Each of them has characteristics that I have. I'm not like either, not as extreme…. I live a pretty quiet writer's life…. Growing up Catholic was firsthand experience. Growing up gay I knew." Another autobiographical aspect of Pagan Babies is the death of Clifford's friend after the friend contracts AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). A friend of Johnson's died of AIDS in 1982; the author wrote several poems about this friend and his poetry collection, Aid and Comfort: Poems, is primarily concerned with the disease. Johnson told Ranson that AIDS has become "more and more a dramatic, pressing subject, more important to write about."
Another novel by Johnson, Sticky Kisses, also includes gay characters and the effects of the virus which causes AIDS. The narrative focuses on the past and present of Thorn Sandler, who is gay and HIV positive. He has been estranged from his family for several years because he revealed to them that he was homosexual. His mother, Lucille, believes that his admission was a factor in her husband's death a short time later. Thorn moved to Atlanta, Georgia, where he found a close circle of friends over the years. Thorn's sister Abby, who takes care of her now resentful mother, responds positively to her brother's request to visit him after he learns of his HIV status. First Abby and later Lucille are reconciled with Thorn, and Abby herself finds a romantic interest among his friends. A critic in Kirkus Reviews called the novel "witty, poignant, and true." Finding Thorn a "very appealing protaganist," a reviewer in Publishers Weekly commented, "Johnson writes with the same winning flair and affecting poignancy that propelled his debut novel."
About his work in general, Johnson observed to CA that "reviewers tend to feel that my fiction is 'grim' or 'dark,' and I suppose I do explore the more turbulent dimensions of family life, love relationships, and psychological experience generally. Yet personally I'm very optimistic and actively engaged in my work; I can't imagine doing anything else."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 234: American Short-Story Writers since World War II, Third Series, Gale (Detroit, MI), 2001.
Kirkus Reviews, August 1, 2001, review of Sticky Kisses, p. 1052.
Los Angeles Times, February 8, 1993, Carolyn See, review of Pagan Babies.
New York Times Book Review, December 9, 1990, Carol Verderese, review of Distant Friends, p. 24; August 9, 1992, Elizabeth Ferber, review of A Friendly Deceit, p. 21.
Publishers Weekly, September 3, 2001, review of Sticky Kisses, p. 56.
Southern Voice, February 11, 1993, Nicola Griffith, review of Pagan Babies; Rebecca Ranson, "Writer's Profile," p. 21.
Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), July 5, 1992, Pinckney Benedict, review of A Friendly Deceit, pp. 1, 10.
Washington Post Book World, January 6, 1991, Dennis Drabelle, review of Distant Friends, p. 9; March 21, 1993, Bernard Welt, review of Pagan Babies, p. 7.