Fenton Johnson

Fenton Johnson was born ninth of nine children into a Kentucky whiskey-making family of storytellers. His latest books are The Man Who Loved Birds, whose writing was supported by a Guggenheim Fellowship, and which will be published by the University Press of Kentucky in 2016. In an unprecedented commitment to a Kentucky native, University Press of Kentucky will reissue his previous novels Crossing the River and Scissors, Paper, Rock in conjunction with the publication of The Man Who Loved Birds. Scissors was nominated for the San Francisco Bay Area Book Reviewers Award and the Boston Review Fisk Award for best fiction.

Johnson has an active career in writing narration for independent media, including radio, documentaries, and personal films. 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.

Johnson has taught in the creative writing programs at San Francisco State University, Columbia University, New York University, Sarah Lawrence College, and the University of California-Davis. Currently he is Associate Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Arizona and serves on the faculty of Spalding University’s low-residency MFA Program.

Everywhere Home: A Life in Essays Cover Image
ISBN: 9781941411438
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Published: Sarabande Books - May 16th, 2017

In this collection of 26 essays, Tucson writer Fenton Johnson contemplates questions of identity, belonging, and belief. With a deft hand and trained ear for storytelling, he explores growing up Catholic in Kentucky, the complex nature of same-gender eros, and the desire to belong. His work poignantly bears witness to the plague years of the AIDS crisis and its effects on the social and artistic networks of so many LGBTQ people. In the collection's most moving pieces, he reckons with grief after his lover dies of AIDS-related complications.

The Man Who Loved Birds (Kentucky Voices) Cover Image
ISBN: 9780813166599
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Published: University Press of Kentucky - January 4th, 2016

Having taken great risks -- to immigrate to America, to take monastic vows -- Bengali physician Meena Chatterjee and Brother Flavian are each seeking safety and security when they encounter Johnny Faye, a Vietnam vet, free spirit, and expert marijuana farmer. Amid the fields and forests of a Trappist monastery, Johnny Faye patiently cultivates Meena's and Flavian's capacity for faith, transforming all they thought they knew about duty and desire. In turn they offer him an experience of civilization other than war and chaos.

But Johnny Faye's law-breaking sets him against a district attorney for whom the law is a tool for ambition rather than justice. Their confrontation leads to a harrowing reckoning that ensnares Dr. Chatterjee and Brother Flavian, who must make a life-or-death choice between an act of justice that may precipitate their ruin or a betrayal that offers salvation.

Inspired by the real-life state police kidnapping and murder of a legendary storyteller and petty criminal, "The Man Who Loved Birds "engages pressing contemporary issues through a timeless narrative of ill-fated romance. Celebrated author Fenton Johnson has woven a seamless, haunting fable exploring the eternal conflicts between free will and destiny, politics and nature, the power of law and the power of love.

Keeping Faith: A Skeptic's Journey Cover Image
ISBN: 9780618492374
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Published: Mariner Books - November 10th, 2004

In his resonant account of a spiritual quest, Fenton Johnson examines what it means for a skeptic to have and to keep faith. Exploring Western and Eastern monastic traditions, Johnson lives as a member of the community at the Trappist Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky and at the branches of the San Francisco Zen Center. Ultimately his encounter with Buddhism brings him to a new understanding and embrace of Christianity. Weaving together meditations on Johnson's spiritual journey with history and insights from modern monks, Keeping Faith offers a blueprint for a new way of practicing faith.

Geography Of The Heart Cover Image
ISBN: 9780671009830
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Published: Scribner - June 1997

In this poignant memoir, the author interweaves two fascinating stories: his own upbringing as the youngest of nine children of a Kentucky whiskey maker and that of his lover Larry Rose, the only child of German Jews, survivors of the Holocaust. With grace and affectionate humor, he follows their relationship from their first meeting through Larry's death. "I'm so lucky, " his lover told him repeatedly, even as he was confronting HIV. "Denial, pure and simple, " Johnson told himself, "until our third and final trip to Paris, where on our last night in the city we sat together in the courtyard of the Picasso Museum. There I turned to him and said 'I'm so lucky, ' and it was as if the time allotted to him to teach me this lesson, the time allotted to me to learn it had been consumed, and there was nothing left but the facts of things to play out."

Scissors, Paper, Rock (Kentucky Voices) Cover Image
By Fenton Johnson, Pam Houston (Introduction by)
ISBN: 9780813166568
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Published: University Press of Kentucky - January 15th, 2016

Along with his siblings, Raphael Hardin left his childhood home in rural Kentucky. Grappling with an AIDS diagnosis, he returns to care for his dying father. Told from the perspectives of Raphael, his family, and their lifelong neighbor, Fenton Johnson's landmark novel reveals the blood struggles and binding loves of a broken family made whole.

Crossing the River (Kentucky Voices) Cover Image
By Fenton Johnson, Silas House (Introduction by)
ISBN: 9780813166476
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Published: University Press of Kentucky - December 30th, 2015

Make no mistake: Martha Bragg Picket is a headstrong southern woman with a rebellious spirit, a characteristic her son Michael shares. Yet to see her after almost twenty years of marriage, it might no longer seem clear. A Yankee contractor's arrival in town catalyzes her dissatisfaction, leading her to turn her life upside down -- unaware that her son will follow suit. Both heartfelt and shrewdly humorous, this widely acclaimed first novel from author Fenton Johnson is an affecting look at one woman's reawakening and her son's coming of age in the heartland of America.