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Diane Johnson

Author bio:

Diane Johnson's life has been at least as exciting as any of her heroines', filled with international travel and critical acclaim. Born in 1934 in Moline, Illinois, Johnson's childhood was happy without being uneventful. Johnson's father, a high school principal, lost his job but not his honor when he exposed plagiarism committed by the daughter of the Superintendent of Schools. After high school, Diane attended Stephens, an academy for future airline stewardesses where teachers encouraged her to write, but left school in 1953 for Los Angeles.

Twelve years and four children later, Diane Johnson earned a Ph.D. in English from UCLA; simultaneously, her first novel, Fair Game, was published. Johnson's reputation continued to grow with the 1968 publication of Loving Hands at Home-her "discontented wife novel, about a Mormon family." In 1970, Johnson penned the timely Burning, an incisive novel chronicling the experiences of a staid, conformist married couple thrown amongst the hippies, drug-addicts, psychiatrists, and firemen of the Bel Air hills. Next, Diane Johnson took a short sabbatical from novels to write the National Book Award-nominated Lesser Lives, a fascinating biography of Mary Ellen Meredith, wife of George Meredith, and poet in her own right. In 1973, Johnson's first short story, "An Apple, An Orange," was included in the annual O. Henry collection of Best Short Stories.

In 1974, The Shadow Knows was released, garnering major praise from all sides. Director Stanley Kubrick was so impressed by the novel's taut psychological suspense and depiction of a person dealing with irrational occurrences that he chose her to write the screenplay for his next horror blockbuster, "The Shining." In 1978, Lying Low was hailed as surpassing The Shadow Knows, with its skillfully rendered atmosphere of foreboding and malice. Also in 1978, Johnson spent three months in Iran with her husband, Dr. John Murray, under a medical school exchange program. Taking another break from fiction, in 1982, Johnson gathered several literary portraits, reviews, and essays in to Terrorists and Novelists, and in 1983 wrote another biography, Dashiell Hammett: A Life, with the authorization and help of Lillian Hellman.

Diane Johnson used her experiences in Iran as the basis for her 1987 novel, Persian Nights. Drawing comparisons to E.M. Forster's Passage to India, Johnson depicted, through the eyes of a typical American housewife, the collapse of Shah Mohammed Riza Pahlevi's regime. In 1988, based on the excellence of Persian Nights, as well as the rest of her body of work, Johnson was awarded "The Mildred and Harold Strauss Livings," which consists of a yearly stipend to allow its recipients to devote their time exclusively to writing. In 1990, Johnson again used experiences relating to her husband's work in Health and Happiness. Set in San Francisco, Health and Happiness shows the inner workings of a large hospital complex from the differing viewpoints of MDs, RNs, employees, volunteers, and patients. 1993 brought the publication of Natural Opium: Some Travelers' Tales, a collection of short stories narrated by D., who is accompanied by her doctor husband, J., giving a sense that these tales are more than a little autobiographical.

In 1997, Diane Johnson moved to Dutton to publish her next novel, Le Divorce. The New York Times Book Review called it "refreshing…a genuinely wise and humane novel, by a very good writer" and the San Francisco Chronicle hailed, "One savors each page…If one were to cross Jane Austen and Henry James, the result would be Diane Johnson." That same year, critically acclaimed nationwide Le Divorce went on to become a National Bestseller and marked the author's third time as a National Book Award Finalist for fiction. Le Divorce is being released as a major motion picture on July 16, 2003 by Merchant/Ivory Productions and Fox Searchlight. The star-studded cast includes Kate Hudson, Naomi Watts, Glenn Close, Stockard Channing, Sam Waterston, Bebe Neuwirth, and Matthew Modine. Diane Johnson's twelfth novel, Le Mariage, a sparkling comedy of manners set in the world of Americans in Paris, was published by Dutton in April 2000 and landed on bestseller lists in the Boston Globe, Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, New York Post, and Newsday. Praised as "a bonbon of a novel that's as deliciously diverting as a visit to a French candy shop" by USA Today, Le Mariage was recognized by The New York Times Book Review as a "Notable Book" for the year 2000.

Diane Johnson now divides her time between Paris and San Francisco, continuing to soak up culture and offer wry observations as a travel writer, essayist, and book reviewer for numerous publications, including The New York Times Book Review.

Currently working on:

Ms. Johnson is in the process of finishing her thirteenth novel--a third French-based novel--which will be called L'Affaire. Set in an Alpine ski resort, it is a story of Americans abroad and the mélange of Europeans they encounter in affairs of both the heart and business. It is being published by Dutton in fall 2003.

Books Ms. Johnson is reading or recommends:

The Red and The Black, by Stendahl

Perhaps, by Carol Shields (an author Ms. Johnson says she admires a lot)

Tour schedule and public appearances:

Please visit the Foundation's Program Calendar.

Books by Diane Johnson

Fair Game
Loving Hands at Home
The Shadow Knows
Lying Low
Persian Nights
Health and Happiness
Le Divorce
Le Mariage

Lesser Lives
Dashiell Hammett
Terrorists and Novelists
Natural Opium

Stanley Kubrick's The Shining
(1980) (screenplay)

Readers who want to learn more about Diane Johnson are encouraged to seek out some of the books that have changed her writing life:

Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
Anglo-Saxon Attitudes, Angus Wilson
Love and Friendship, Alison Lurie
The Three Musketeers and
The Count of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas
The Story Girl, L. M. Montgomery
Two Years Before the Mast, Richard Henry Dana, Jr.
USA, John Dos Passos
The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
A House in Order, Nigel Dennis
The Bell, Iris Murdoch
The Leopard, Guiseppe di Lampedusa

Diane Johnson photo credit: Jan Cobb

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