The papers of award-winning author and Evanston native Charles Johnson have been acquired by Washington University in St. Louis, the school recently announced. The archival collection of materials related to Dr. Johnson’s life and work is being processed and will be open to the public later this year or in early 2022.
The acquisition represents “a significant addition to the materials in the university’s Department of Special Collections,” said Joel Minor, Curator of the Modern Literature Collections/Manuscripts.
Dr. Johnson is a celebrated cartoonist, longtime educator, and the award-winning author of fiction, essays, and screenplays. In his work, he often engages with issues of race and cultural identity, incorporating both Eastern and Western philosophy, folklore, spirituality, history, humor, and expert storytelling.
Spanning nearly six decades, the collection brings together manuscripts, drafts, correspondence, artwork, and ephemera and serves as a testament to Dr. Johnson’s wide-ranging career as a public intellectual.
Dr. Johnson grew up in Evanston and attended Evanston Township High School, where he drew editorial and other cartoons for The Evanstonian, the school newspaper. He later produced two cartoon collections, “Black Humor” (1970) and “Half-Past Nation-Time” (1972), and went on to create and host the nationally syndicated PBS television show “Charlie’s Pad,” a series about the craft of cartooning that aired from 1970 to 1980.
Dr. Johnson, who received his Ph.D. in Philosophy at Stony Brook University, is the author of numerous acclaimed works of fiction and nonfiction. His short-story collection “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” was nominated for the 1987 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. “Middle Passage,” his 1990 novel, won the National Book Award. Dr. Johnson was one of 12 Black authors (including Maya Angelou and Rita Dove) commemorated on a series of stamps issued in Ghana and Uganda in 1997.
“Finding the perfect home for 56 years of creative work is a rare opportunity and a once-in-a-lifetime experience for any author or artist,” Dr. Johnson says. “So I feel extremely fortunate that my papers have that home at a school as distinguished as Washington University.”
Dr. Johnson was awarded a MacArthur fellowship in 1998. In 2002, he received an American Academy of Arts and Letters Award for Literature. He is professor emeritus at the University of Washington, where he began teaching in 1976.
“We are thrilled to steward the Charles Johnson Papers,” says Nadia Ghasedi, Associate University Librarian for the Special Collections Services Division at the Washington University Libraries. “Our faculty and students, and the public, will benefit greatly from having access to the work of such an influential writer and illustrator. As an African American, Johnson brings an essential perspective that has been missing from our Modern Literature Collection.”
The Charles Johnson Papers will be included in the Modern Literature Collections and in the collections of the D.B. Dowd Modern Graphic History Library. Washington University has a distinguished collection of papers of famous writers, including Joy Williams, William Gass, Stanley Elkin, William Gaddis, James Merrill, Howard Nemerov, and Mary Jo Bang, who is on faculty there. In addition, partial collections include the papers of Tennessee Williams, who attended the school; T.S. Elliot, whose grandfather was one of the school’s founders; and Samuel Beckett.
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