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Denis Johnson, Author of ‘JESUS’ SON Dies at 67 │ See Some of His Epic Poem Collections


— National Book Award-Winning Author,Denis Johnson Dies at 67

Denis Johnson, the prize-winning fiction writer, poet and playwright best known for his surreal and transcendent story collection “Jesus’ Son,” has died at age 67.

Johnson died Wednesday, according to his literary agent, Nicole Aragi. Johnson died of liver cancer at his home in The Sea Ranch, outside of Gualala, California.

“Denis was one of the great writers of his generation,” Galassi said in a statement Friday. “He wrote prose with the imaginative concentration and empathy of the poet he was.”

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Johnson’s honesty, humor and vulnerability were intensely admired by readers, critics and fellow writers, some of whom mourned him on Twitter. He won the National Book Award in 2007 for his Vietnam War novel “Tree of Smoke” and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for “Tree of Smoke,” and, in 2012, for his novella “Train Dreams.” His other works include the novel “Laughing Monsters” and “Angels,” the poetry collection “The Veil” and the play “Hellhound On My Trail.” The story collection “The Largess of the Sea Maiden,” his first since “Jesus’ Son,” is scheduled to come out January from the Penguin Random House imprint Dial Press.

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Jonathan Galassi, president and publisher of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, issued a statement Friday calling Johnson “one of the great writers of his generation.”

“He wrote prose with the imaginative concentration and empathy of the poet he was,” said Galassi, who published “Jesus’ Son” and “Tree of Smoke” among other Johnson books.

Many remember him for “Jesus’ Son,” which in hazed but undeniable detail chronicled the lives of various drug addicts adrift in America. The title was taken from the Velvet Underground song “Heroin,” the stories were sometimes likened to William Burroughs’ ”Naked Lunch” and the experiences were drawn in part from Johnson’s own struggles with addiction. Much of “Jesus’ Son” tells of crime, violence, substance abuse and the worst of luck. But, as related by a recovering addict with an unprintable name (his initials were F.H.), the stories had an underlying sense of connection, possibility and unknown worlds. In the story “Car Crash While Hitchhiking,” the narrator looks upon an accident victim, a bloodied man taking his final breaths.