To celebrate the opening of the Denis Johnson archive at the Harry Ransom Center in Austin, we’ll be posting materials throughout the day. The celebrated author of Tree of Smoke,Jesus’ Son, and Train Dreams keeps out of the public eye, making this a rare look into his process.
Above: The notebook cover for Johnson’s collection of notes relating to Tree of Smoke.
(All images courtesy of the Harry Ransom Center. You can read archivist Amy Armstrong’s note about the collection here, and enter to win a signed copy of Tree of Smoke on their Facebook page.)
This is the final post in a week-long miniseries celebrating National Short Story Month. Our final featured collection is Denis Johnson’s Jesus’ Son.
The first time I read this story, “Work,” its first lines stopped me, caught me off guard, bade me to re-read. I liked its directness and was immediately intrigued by the world Johnson was describing. Jesus’ Son was assigned reading for a creative writing course I was taking in college. Inspired by the way in which Johnson juxtaposes the raw with the strikingly poetic and surreal, I decided I too would write about the underbelly of the town where I grew up. Unfortunately, my fixation on my first love and cliché inclination towards all things sentimental—and absence of any serious drug addiction—resulted in terrible short stories that paled in comparison to the source of their inspiration. I still think Johnson does it best.