Greg Johnson (b. 1953)
An award-winning short-story writer, novelist, poet, biographer, and scholar,
Born July 13, 1953, in San Francisco, California, Johnson moved with his family to Liverpool, England, for three years and then to Tyler, Texas. He received B.A. and M.A. degrees from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, and a Ph.D. from Emory University in Atlanta in 1980. His dissertation was published as Emily Dickinson: Perception and the Poet's Quest (1985). He taught briefly at Emory; Widener University in Chester, Pennsylvania; and the University of Mississippi in Oxford, and has been at Kennesaw State since 1989.
Of Johnson's numerous short stories, fifty-two are collected in Distant Friends (1990), A Friendly Deceit (1992), I Am Dangerous (1996), and Last Encounter with the Enemy (2004). His fifth collection, Women I've Known: New and Selected Stories, was published in 2007. Reviewers see in Johnson's well-crafted prose keen observations of the contemporary world, where the protagonists lead their quietly desperate lives in a traditional Southern Gothic landscape. Many of his stories are set in the modern South, with familiar Atlanta landmarks as their setting. Family conflict, unresolved issues, and marital discord are a few of Johnson's themes, and he portrays many of his characters at decisive moments in their lives. Some characters are obsessed with violence, deceit, secrets, and undeveloped love, as the titles of his collections suggest. There are often telling moments when the characters cannot avoid their fates, but there are also moments when the painful truth becomes redemptive.
In his collection of poetry, Aid and Comfort (1993), Johnson deals with the issues of AIDS, dying, suicide, violence, and aging. The same year he published Pagan Babies, his first novel. Set largely in Atlanta, the novel explores growing up Catholic and homosexual in the age of AIDS, issues Johnson says he identifies with. The poignant and frankly sexual novel follows the intertwining, stormy relationship between Janice Rungren and her friend Clifford Bannon, who first meet as third-graders in a Catholic school in Texas. As adults, Janice and Clifford must confront serious personal issues.
In his second novel, Sticky Kisses (2001), Johnson again uses Atlanta as the setting where his characters struggle with the complex rules of society and family in the South. Abby Sadler has returned to be with her estranged brother, Thom, recently diagnosed with HIV. The novel explores the irrevocable stories of family and the healing power of love.
Johnson has won prizes from the Academy of American Poets and the PEN Syndicated Fiction Project. He was named Georgia Author of the Year for 1990 and 1997, and his stories have been published in Prize Stories: The O. Henry Awards (1986) and New Stories from the South: The Year's Best (1990). As the authorized biographer of Joyce Carol Oates, Johnson followed his critical studies of the author in 1987 and 1994 with the publication of Invisible Writer: A Biography of Joyce Carol Oates (1998), Joyce Carol Oates: Conversations, 1970-2006 (2006), and The Journal of Joyce Carol Oates: 1973-1982 (2007).
In both his stories and his novels, Johnson is an astute, honest observer of the emotional damage we do to ourselves. Though his characters' lives are often failures in one way or another, he sees in their struggle the "language of survival."
Contemporary Authors, vol. 140 (Detroit: Gale, 1993), s.v. "Johnson, Greg."
Rebecca Ransom, "Writer's Profile," Southern Voice, February 11, 1993.
Michael Upchurch, "Greg Johnson," in Dictionary of Literary Biography vol. 234, American Short-Story Writers since World War II (Detroit: Gale, 2001).
Teresa Weaver, "Atlanta-Set 'Sticky Kisses' Navigates the Shoals of Family," Atlanta Journal-Constitution, January 27, 2002.
Gary Kerley, North Hall High School
A project of the Georgia Humanities Council, in partnership with the University of Georgia Press, the University System of Georgia/GALILEO, and the Office of the Governor.