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Life As Charles Johnson Sees It


Charles Johnson has one of those careers, you know the kind, the ones where you start out at the Chicago Tribune as a political cartoonist, turn Buddhist and philosopher, make a huge splash as a novelist, win the National Book Award, grow so revered that literary societies are founded in your name, host a national PBS show for a decade, land a MacArthur “genius” grant, receive early tenure, have your face put on a stamp, publish collections of comics, children books and compilations of your wisdom, get inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters, donate your papers to a university, become routinely included in literary canons and have your drawings shown by major museums.

That kind of career.

And yet — hmmm, wait, who’s Charles Johnson again?


The Chicago Tribune profiles and interviews Charles Johnson.

I realize people identify me very simply as the award-winning author of “Middle Passage,” this adventure set during the North Atlantic slave trade, but I have also published 25 books. Anything that limits imagination or intellect I am opposed to. I’ve had to reinvent myself three times in 73 years. I started as a cartoonist and worked intensely seven years that way. Then I was seduced by philosophy. But at school we were told: There will be no jobs in philosophy. They warned us — when you’re done with this degree, there will not be a job waiting. So along the way I published my first novel, which led to teaching at University of Washington, which meant remaking myself again as a literary scholar.

self-portrait and cartoons © Charles Johnson

The Chicago Tribune article/interview via MSN (avoiding the paywall).

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