Born in Munich, Germany, in 1949, Denis Johnson was raised in Tokyo, Manila, and the suburbs outside of Washington, D.C. He studied with Raymond Carver while earning his MFA from the University of Iowa. In 1969, while still enrolled, his first collection of poetry, The Man Among the Seals, was published.
Over the next several years, Johnson published three more collections of poetry, including Inner Weather (1976), The Incognito Lounge (1982), and The Veil (1987), as well as four novels, including Angels (1983), which received the Sue Kauffman Prize for First Fiction of the Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters.
During this time he struggled with alcoholism and various other addictions. It was out of these experiences that he wrote his breakthrough volume of stories Jesus' Son, which was published in 1992 to much acclaim. It was later adapted for the screen, and the film was named one of the top ten films of 1999 by The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, Roger Ebert and others.
Johnson's most recent book of poetry is The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations Millennium General Assembly: Poems Collected and New (HarperCollins, 1995). Recent fiction titles include Already Dead: A California Gothic (1998), The Name of the World (2000), Train Dreams (2002), Tree of Smoke (2007), and Nobody Move (2009).
He is also the author of plays produced in San Francisco, Chicago, New York, and Seattle, including Shoppers Carried by Escalators into the Flames, Soul of a Whore, and Purvis, as well as a collection of essays, Seek: Reports from the Edges of America & Beyond (2001).
About his poetry, the poet and fiction writer Raymond Carver said, "Denis Johnson's poems are driven by a ravening desire to make sense out of the life lived. The subject matter is harrowingly convincing, is nothing less than a close examination of the darker side of human conduct. Why do we act this way? Johnson asks. How should we act?"
Johnson's honors include a 1993 Lannan Fellowship in Fiction, a Whiting Writer’s Award, the Aga Khan Prize for Fiction from the Paris Review. In 2007, he held the Roy F. and Joann Cole Mitte endowed chair in creative writing at Texas State University, given each year to a writer of international distinction. He served as the playwright in residence for the Campo Santo Theater Company in San Francisco. He lives in Arizona and Idaho.