||The Denis Johnson Papers consist of manuscript drafts, notes, notebooks, research
screenplays, scripts, poems, publication proofs, clippings, scrapbook material,
correspondence, printed material, photographs, posters, and childhood papers belonging
the American writer Denis Johnson. The professional and personal papers document Johnson's
diverse writing career and range of creative output which includes poetry, short stories,
novels, essays, journalism articles, screenplays, and scripts. The papers are organized
two series: I. Literary Activities, circa 1970s-2009, undated; and II. Personal and
Professional Files, 1939-2009, undated.
||Series I. Literary Activities makes up the bulk of the papers and includes materials
associated with Johnson's writings. It is arranged into four subseries: A. Novels
Collections, circa 1975-2009, undated; B. Short Stories and Essays, circa 1970s-2008,
undated; C. Poetry, circa 1980s-2008, undated; and D. Film and Theater Projects, circa
1980s-2009. Materials in each of these subseries are arranged in alphabetical order
title, and within each title, the material generally follows the chronological order
literary production, from research and notes to publication drafts. When applicable,
material such as book dust jackets, reviews, publicity material, and/or adaptations
||Johnson created extensive notes, drafts, and outlines for most of his works. He apparently
wrote on whatever was at hand, and his notes appear as full-page, typed sheets, as
writings on the back of checks and receipts, paper coasters, a paper plate, a paper
and envelopes. Johnson often inserted the handwritten material in with his typed notes
draft fragments, making it sometimes difficult to discern if the intended order remains
intact. Much of the material is in chronological order, but page numbers are not always
sequential, and the notes and drafts sometimes stop and start, even in mid paragraph.
Furthermore, the notes and draft fragments are heavily revised and indicate a constant
re-working of the material. As a result, no attempt was made to arrange these materials
within folders, and they remain foldered as they arrived at the Ransom Center, with
original folder titles created by Johnson indicated by single quotes in the container
||Subseries A. Novels and Collections represents most of Johnson's novels and collections;
however, some important works are not represented, including Johnson's first poetry
collections, The Man among the Seals, Inner Weather, and The Veil, and his first three
novels, Angels, Fiskadoro, and The Stars at Noon. Johnson has
said that earlier in his career, he often did not keep working drafts because he found
necessary to "shed them" in order for his writing to
||Johnson often worked on multiple pieces simultaneously, as in the case of three novellas,
The Name of the World, Door in a Blank Wall, and Train Dreams. Johnson planned to publish these together in a single
volume titled Name of the World. As a result, some drafts and notes are filed with
from the other works. Ultimately, Johnson published Name of the World and Train Dreams separately (first in the Paris Review and in Europe, then later in the U.S.), and aspects of
Door in a Blank Wall appear with material from Tree of Smoke.
||Johnson frequently referred to previous ideas or notes as he worked and sometimes
them with subsequent projects. For example, Johnson's work Seek, a collection of essays previously published in Esquire, Harper's, and other popular
magazines, includes materials from his two articles "Civil War in Hell" (1990) and "Small Boys' Unit" (2000). Because Johnson used his original notes,
research, and cassette tapes to write these essays, as well as a screenplay about
and then later referenced this combined material during the editing of Seek, the material was filed with drafts of Seek.
||The first segment of Seek is arranged in alphabetical order by published
essay title or by Johnson's original folder title. Following the essays are pages
specifically for the publication of the final Seek manuscript, such as drafts for the piece called "Three Desserts" (which is a combination of three separate essays) and
proofs of the completed manuscript. Correspondence indicates that Johnson added and
essays during the editing process, and some of these discarded essays remain filed
work. Series I., Subseries B. Short Stories and Essays contains additional files related
the original Liberian magazine essay, and Series II. Personal and Professional Files
contains materials related to the screenplay.
||Tree of Smoke, which won the National Book Award in 2007, is
represented by the largest volume of material in the collection. Johnson worked on
novel for almost fifteen years, and the research and notes show his frequent starts
stops. These notes, outlines, and draft fragments date from 1993 to the book's publication
in 2007. Included are research files containing notes, travel photos, and ephemera
trips to the Philippines and Malaysia, as well as previous writings used for reference,
internet research about Vietnam, military operations, and other topics. Also present
chapter draft fragments and note files, organized by story timeline and labeled using
Johnson's original folder titles. The bulk of the manuscript material for the book
comprised of loose drafts of undated and unnumbered pages. These fragments were very
working notes and drafts and contain Johnson's frequent handwritten edits throughout.
pages were, for the most part, left in their original order as it is difficult to
||Following the loose manuscript material for Tree of Smoke are six binder notebooks, many with embellished
covers, corresponding to the chapter years in the book. These appear to be the final
versions of the working drafts of the novel. For preservation purposes, the contents
removed from the binders, and in cases where the binder was decorated, the pages and
corresponding binder were filed together. In addition, Johnson's Tree of Smoke materials include one complete, near-final typescript,
one typescript with typesetting marks, two sets of page proofs, and an advanced reader's
copy of the novel that includes a sample of the audiobook.
||Subseries B. Short Stories and Essays contains Johnson's shorter fiction and non-fiction
works and is arranged in alphabetical order by work title or Johnson's original folder
title. The Seek material in Subseries A. Novels and Collections
also includes magazine essay drafts.
||Subseries C. Poetry contains working and final drafts of Johnson's poems. Of particular
interest is the 'Slide Show' file, which contains material
Johnson wrote for Sam Messer's art show in 1982. Johnson and Messer were frequent
collaborators at different points in their careers, and Series II. Personal and Professional
Files also includes Messer-related material. Of additional note in Subseries C. are
for Johnson's poem "The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations
Millennium General Assembly." Subseries A. includes material related to Johnson's
published poetry collections.
||Subseries D. Film and Theater Projects contains correspondence, reviews, publicity
material, and scripts for some of Johnson's screenplays and theater productions. Johnson
not retain many of his screenplays, but his papers do include materials for his adaptation
of his own novel Angels. Most of the material in this subseries
pertains to public readings and the theatrical productions of Hellhound on My Trail, Shoppers Carried By Escalators into the Flames, and Soul of a Whore; however, only Soul of a Whore is documented with a play script.
||Series II. Personal and Professional Files contains papers and documents related to
Johnson's childhood, family life, and writing career. Awards, book jackets, contracts,
correspondence, ephemera, identification cards and passports, photographs, printed
publicity clippings, reading and workshop materials, report cards, research files,
material, and travel files are found in this series.
||Of particular interest is the scrapbook material, apparently assembled into notebooks
Johnson's mother, Vera. The first notebook contains Johnson's birth certificate, school
report cards, and letters to his parents while in college. These letters are very
and candid, with Johnson describing daily happenings, his home life with his wife
and the progress of his writing. The other notebooks contain clippings and printed
that document Johnson's writing career, his awards, and readings. Due to preservation
considerations, these materials were removed from their original binders and rehoused,
their original order was maintained.
||Overall, there is relatively little correspondence in Johnson's papers. What is present
includes letters from publishers, professional associates, other writers, and writing
program requests. The material is arranged chronologically, with a separate segment
of 'Prison Correspondence' from two death row inmates, Charlie Doss
and Robert Smith, whom Johnson taught while working at an Arizona state prison. A
these letters include some of these inmates' writings. Scrapbook notebooks in this
contain letters Johnson sent to his parents during the 1970s and 1980s.
||In addition to the photos in the scrapbooks, there is a small amount of loose candid
publicity photographs of Johnson. Many of these are reproduced prints of Johnson while
||Publications and journal issues containing Johnson's short stories, essays, and poems
also located in this series. One copy of each title was retained.