Black On Campus
Higher Education and the African American Experience

The Quotable Black Scholar: Charles Johnson

September 30th, 2008 by Ajuan Mance

Charles Johnson (b. 1948) at the 2008 conference of the College Language Association

(Source: Aldon Lynn Nielsen at Heat String Theory)

If the NAACP is struggling these days to recruit members of the younger generation and to redefine its mission in the 21st century — and it is struggling to do that — I think it is a good sign that the organization Du Bois led for so long is now a casualty of its own successes in the 1960s.

–from “The End of the Black American Narrative” (The American Scholar 77 no3 32-42 Summ 2008)


Biographical Profile: Currently the Pollock Professor for Excellence in English at the University of Washington, Charles Johnson is best known as the author of the National Book Award winning novel Middle Passage (1990). To hear Johnson read aloud from Middle Passage click THIS LINK (many thanks to Heat String Theory for making this audio available online). Johnson is also the author of three additional novels, Faith and the Good Thing, Oxherding Tale, and Dreamer.

In addition, he is the author or co-author of several other scholarly and creative works, including: two collections of short stories, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice and Soulcatcher and Other Stories; three scholarly and historical texts, Black Men Speaking, Africans in America: America’s Journey through Slavery (with a co-editor), and King: The Photobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr. (with a co-author).

Johnson is also a artist and humorist, and has published two collections of his cartoons: Black Humor and Half-Past Nation Time. He has published over 1000 of his drawings in national magazines and other publications, and he has published over 50 book reviews. Johnson has also penned a number of screenplays, several of which have been produced for public television.

Johnson’s website describes the range of awards and honors he has received:

Johnson, a Ph.D. in Philosophy, l998 MacArthur fellow and 2002 recipient of an American Academy of Arts and Letters Award for Literature,  received the 1990 National Book Award for Middle Passage (he was the first African-American male to win this prize since Ralph Ellison in 1953).  Oxherding Tale was awarded the 1983 Washington State Govenor’s Award for Literature; Sorcerer’s Apprentice was one of five finalists for the 1987 PEN/Faulkner Award, and Being and Race won a 1989 Govenor’s Award for Literature.  His short fiction is included in the O’Henry Prize Stories (1993), Best American Short Stories (1992), Best American Short Stories of the Eighties, and he was named in a survey conducted by the University of Southern California to be one of the ten best short story writers in America; and his short fiction and essays are much anthologized. On May 24, 2000 he received the “Lifetime Achievement in the Arts Award” from the Corporate Council for the Arts (former recipients include artists Jacob Lawrence and George Tsutakawa). On July 27, 2001 he received the Pacific Northwest Writers Association’s 2001 Achievement Award “for distinguished professional achievement and for enhancing the stature of Northwest literature,” and on March 27, 2003 he received one of the first Distinguished Alumni Awards from Evanston Township High School. The spring issue of Washington Law and Politics” includes Dr. Johnson in its feature, “The 25 Smartest People in Washington State.” In 2003, he was elected to membership in the American Academy of Arts & Sciences; and in 2004 received the Stephen Henderson Award for outstanding contributions to African American literature and culture at the spring conference for the American Literature Association.

Charles Johnson was born in Evanston, Illinois. He holds undergraduate and masters degrees from Southern Illinois University. He earned his Ph.D. in Philosophy from the State University of New York at Stonybrook (SUNY). He authored his first published novel, Faith and the Good Thing, while doing his doctoral work at SUNY.

Posted by Ajuan Mance

Posted in Academia, African Americans, Charles Johnson, Higher Education, NAACP, University of Washington

2 Responses

  1. Clnmike

    That was a good quote in the begining.

  2. Ajuan Mance

    I think that more than a casualty of its successes (though there certainly were some important successes — check out my recent blogpost on Charles Hamilton Houston), the NAACP is suffering from a failure to change its focus and its techniques in a way that meets the challenges of 21st century Blacks.