The Harry Ransom Center, a humanities research library and museum at The University of Texas at Austin, has acquired the papers of National Book Award winner Denis Johnson, author of “Jesus’ Son” and “Tree of Smoke.”
Johnson was born in 1949 and published his first novel, “Angels,” in 1983. Prior to that, he had published three volumes of poetry, including “The Man Among the Seals” (1969), “Inner Weather” (1976) and “The Incognito Lounge” (1982). In 1992, Johnson received critical acclaim for his short story collection, “Jesus’ Son,” which included 11 interconnected stories narrated by an unnamed young man addicted to drugs and alcohol. “Jesus’ Son” was adapted into a film starring Billy Crudup in 1999.
Johnson’s novel “Tree of Smoke” (2007), which follows the lives of four Americans during the Vietnam War, was published to wide critical acclaim and received the National Book Award. His most recent novel is “Nobody Move,” which was serialized in four parts in Playboy magazine in 2008 and published in its entirety in 2009.
“It’s a deep comfort knowing my archives have found a home, and it’s a special honor that the Ransom Center will be that home; but having this association with the Ransom Center is most important, for me, on a personal level,” said Johnson. “Over the last couple of decades I and my family–wife Cindy, and kids Daniel and Lana–have been sometime residents of Austin, and we’ve spent time together at many Ransom Center exhibits and events. So the Center already has its place in our family’s story, and now it brings part of that story to a happy conclusion.”
The collection includes manuscripts, typescripts, research materials, journals, correspondence, family photos and juvenilia, press clippings, books and other items. Many of Johnson’s pre-1992 works exist only in digital form, and bundles of floppy disks with manuscript drafts are part of the archive.
An early scrapbook includes baby footprints, Johnson’s birth certificate, family photos and correspondence between Johnson and his family.
Materials related to “Jesus’ Son” include floppy discs, annotated typescripts, correspondence related to the publication of the collection, jacket cover proofs and memorabilia related to the film adaptation, including the knife and eye prosthesis Johnson wore during his cameo in the film.
“Tree of Smoke” is represented in the collection with research materials that span several years, manuscripts and typescripts, heavily annotated printouts, proof copies of the book and discs with drafts and notes.
There are extensive digital materials throughout the collection, including discs and a disc drive with material related to “Tree of Smoke,” “Nobody Move,” “Train Dreams” and several other works.
“We are delighted to add Denis Johnson’s archive to the Ransom Center’s collections,” said Ransom Center Director Thomas F. Staley. “We have long admired Johnson for his candid and compelling portrayals of American life, often at its grimmest, and for his poetic style. Denis Johnson is undoubtedly one of this country’s finest storytellers, and his archive will be a great complement to the papers of other contemporary writers at the Center.”
Johnson’s materials at the Ransom Center will reside alongside the papers of writers such as David Foster Wallace, Don DeLillo, Norman Mailer, Jayne Anne Phillips, Tim O’Brien and James Salter, as well as those of James Joyce and Samuel Beckett.
The materials will be accessible once processed and cataloged.
High-resolution press images of materials from the collection are available.