2015 National Book Award Winner, Fiction

Adam Johnson

Fortune Smiles
(Random House)
ISBN: 978-0812997477

Fortune Smiles Adam Johnson, credit: Samson Yee


There is poetry and heartbreak on every page of Adam Johnson’s extraordinary story collection, Fortune Smiles. Johnson is a virtuoso, writing with the same sensitivity and insight whether his setting is North Korea or New Orleans, Palo Alto or some other, imaginary world, as flawed and secretive as our own. The voices we encounter in these pages are by turns surprising, wondrous, comic and devastating. These six masterful stories confirm Johnson’s status as one of the most talented writers of his generation.

National Book Foundation: In the process of writing your book, what did you discover, what, if anything, surprised you?
Johnson: Because I research a lot, the surprising joy of discovery is always central to my writing. I love to fashion entire worlds in my stories—these I try to adorn with details gleaned from the real world and the emotions of life lived. In researching the title story, for example, I was both troubled and inspired to hear North Korean defectors describe the regime-sponsored crimes they had to participate in. It wasn’t until I’d delivered hundreds of UPS packages in the Louisiana heat that I knew where my character in “Hurricanes Anonymous” would sleep that night. And it’s not until you descend to the lower levels of a Stasi prison that you begin to understand what must exist at the heart of a story like “George Orwell Was a Friend of Mine.”


In six masterly stories, Johnson delves deep into love and loss, natural disasters, the influence of technology, and how the political shapes the personal. "George Orwell Was a Friend of Mine" follows a former warden of a Stasi prison in East Germany who vehemently denies his past, even as pieces of it are delivered in packages to his door. "Nirvana," portrays a programmer whose wife has a rare disease finding solace in a digital simulacrum of the president of the United States. In "Hurricanes Anonymous" a young man searches for the mother of his son in a Louisiana devastated by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. And in the unforgettable title story, Johnson returns to his signature subject, North Korea, depicting two defectors from Pyongyang who are trying to adapt to their new lives in Seoul, while one cannot forget the woman he left behind.

About the Author

Adam Johnson is the author of The Orphan Master’s Son, winner of the Pulitzer Prize in fiction, the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, and the California Book Award, and finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. It was named one of the best books of the year by more than a dozen publications and spent almost a year in total on the New York Times Bestseller list. Johnson’s other awards include a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Whiting Writers’ Award, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, and a Stegner Fellowship; he was also a finalist for the New York Public Library’s Young Lions Award. His previous books are Emporium, a short story collection, and the novel Parasites Like Us. Johnson teaches creative writing at Stanford University and lives in San Francisco with his wife and children.


- penguinrandomhouse.com/authors/98888/adam-johnson


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Photo credit: Samson Yee