Short Bio

Fenton Johnson is the author of At the Center of All Beauty:  Solitude and the Creative Life.  He is author as well of the novels The Man Who Loved Birds; Scissors, Paper, Rock; and Crossing the River.  In nonfiction, Johnson has published Geography of the Heart:  A Memoir and Keeping Faith: A Skeptic’s Journey among Christian and Buddhist Monks. Geography received the American Library Association and Lambda Literary Awards for best LGBT Creative Nonfiction, while Keeping Faith received a Lambda Literary and Kentucky Literary Award in Creative Nonfiction. His previous book Everywhere Home:  A Life in Essays (2017), includes essays on topics as diverse as San Francisco during the AIDS epidemic to spirituality to a youthful encounter with Ike and Tina Turner.  A regular contributor to Harper’s Magazine, Johnson has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts and has been featured on Terry Gross’s Fresh Air. He has written the narrations and served as associate producer on several award-winning, nationally and internationally screened documentaries, among them Stranger with a Camera  and La Ofrenda:  Days of the Dead.  He is emeritus professor at the University of Arizona and serves on the faculty of the creative writing program of Spalding University. 

Long Bio

Fenton Johnson was born ninth of nine children into a Kentucky bourbon-making family of storytellers and named after the Trappist monks who hung out in his mother’s kitchen.  His most recent book is At the Center of All Beauty: Solitude and the Creative Life (W.W. Norton). His new and selected essays Everywhere Home: A Life in Essays was published by Sarabande Books in 2017.  His latest novel, The Man Who Loved Birds, was published by the University Press of Kentucky (UPK) in 2016.  UPK simultaneously reissued his previous novels Crossing the River and Scissors, Paper, Rock, with forewords by authors Silas House (for Crossing the River) and Pam Houston (for Scissors, Paper, Rock) and afterwords by the author.

Johnson is also the author of Keeping Faith: A Skeptic’s Journey among Christian and Buddhist Monks, which addresses what it means to a skeptic to have and to keep faith.  Keeping Faith received a Lambda Literary Award for best gay/lesbian nonfiction as well as a Kentucky Literary Award for creative nonfiction / outstanding literary achievement.  His Geography of the Heart: A Memoir received the American Library Association and Lambda Literary Awards for best gay nonfiction.  Scissors, Paper, Rock was nominated for the San Francisco Bay Area Book Reviewers Award and the Boston Review Fisk Award for best fiction.

Johnson has published essays and literary journalism in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and a wide range of newspapers and magazines on issues involving social justice, faith and spirituality, environmentalism, and human rights.  He has received National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellowships in fiction and creative nonfiction, an Arizona Arts Council award, a Stegner Fellowship in fiction from Stanford University, and a Michener Fellowship from the Iowa Writers Workshop.  He has contributed commentaries to National Public Radio and wrote the narration for award-winning documentaries, among them Lourdes Portillo’s La Ofrenda: Days of the Dead and the southeast Appalachian cultural center Appalshop’s Stranger with a Camera, recipient of a Columbia DuPont Award in journalism and best documentary at the 2001 Sundance Film Festival.  Currently he is working with Bay Area filmmaker on a documentary about lesbian poet Elsa Gidlow, as well as adapting his memoir Geography of the Heart into an opera libretto.

Johnson is emeritus professor of Creative Writing at the University of Arizona and serves on the faculty of Spalding University’s low-residency MFA Program.  Among his achievements he counts playing a role in one of the 20th century’s great human rights struggles; creating a classroom, many times over, where students transformed knowledge into wisdom; the ever-spreading influence of those students; creating a space for the voiceless to be heard; creating a home for plants and wild creatures; and being a good host and a good friend.