His most recent book Keeping Faith: A Skeptic's Journey draws on time spent living as a member of the monastic communities of the Trappist Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky and the San Francisco Zen Center as a means to examining what it means to a skeptic to have and keep faith. Keeping Faith weaves frank conversations with Trappist and Buddhist monks with a history of the contemplative life and meditations from Johnson’s experience of the virtue we call faith. It received the 2004 Kentucky Literary Award for Nonfiction and the 2004 Lambda Literary Award for best GLBT creative nonfiction.
Johnson has served as a contributor to Harper's Magazine, the New York Times Magazine, and many literary quarterlies, and has received numerous literary awards, among them a James Michener Fellowship from the Iowa Writers Workshop and National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships in both fiction and creative nonfiction. His writing also received a Northern California Book Reviewers nomination for best fiction (for Scissors, Paper, Rock, Washington Square Press) and the American Library Association's Stonewall Book Award and Lambda Literary Awards for best creative nonfiction (for Geography of the Heart, Scribner). He contributes occasional commentaries to National Public Radio and has written the narration for several award-winning public television documentaries and personal films. He serves on the faculty of the creative writing program at the University of Arizona and is currently completing The Man Who Loved Birds: A Novel and is a 2007 John Simon Guggenheim Fellow.
He has received awards from the Wallace Stegner and James Michener Fellowships in Fiction and National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships in both fiction and creative nonfiction. He has also received a Kentucky Literary Award, two Lambda Literary Awards for best creative nonfiction, as well as the American Library Association's Stonewall Book Award for best gay/lesbian nonfiction. He received a 2007 fellowship from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation to support completion of his third novel and to begin research and writing on a nonfiction project.
Geography of the Heart by Fenton Johnson, a memoir, reads like a novel, with all the suspense of a love affair blossoming against the backdrop of terminal illness. It’s the early 1990s, and Johnson, who is HIV-negative, hesitates to get involved with Larry, who is HIV-positive, even though they’re falling in love, knowing what that might mean in this pre-AIDS-drugs era. Of course, he does get involved, sharing travel, love of literature and a very personable cat, and the more their lives enmesh, the closer the author comes to confronting his fears about loss. This is one of the most beautiful romances ever written—a look at mortality that avoids being morbid. Bonus reading: Keeping Faith, Johnson’s nonfiction account of the Catholicism he left behind, the Buddhism he tries to adopt, and the larger questions of belief that haunt the thinking person who rejects religious doctrine. --K.M. SoehnleinFurther Readings:
Geography Of The Heart by Fenton Johnson
Paperback: 240 pages
Publisher: Scribner (June 1, 1997)
Amazon: Geography Of The Heart
From the author of the award-winning novels Crossing The River and Scissors, Paper, Rock comes a powerful book about the transformative power of love. Fenton Johnson recounts the history of "how I feel in love how I came to be with someone else, how he came to death and how I helped." Johnson interweaves two stories: his own upbringing as the youngest of a Kentucky whiskey maker's nine children, and that of his lover LarD Rose, the only child of German Jews. survivors of the Holocaust.
Scissors, Paper, Rock: A Novel by Fenton Johnson
Paperback: 226 pages
Publisher: Pocket Books (July 1, 1994)
Amazon: Scissors, Paper, Rock: A Novel
This remarkable story of love, loss, and memory reveals the lives of two generations of a Kentucky family and their elderly neighbor. The illness and death of the youngest son from AIDS acts as a catalyst for this eloquent portrayal of conflicts and loyalties. "A powerfully moving novel" (The New York Times Book Review) and an award winner in hardcover.
Keeping Faith: A Skeptic's Journey by Fenton Johnson
Paperback: 336 pages
Publisher: Mariner Books; Reprint edition (November 10, 2004)
Amazon: Keeping Faith: A Skeptic's Journey
In his resonant account of a spiritual quest, Fenton Johnson examines what it means for a skeptic to have and to keep faith. Exploring Western and Eastern monastic traditions, Johnson lives as a member of the community at the Trappist Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky and at the branches of the San Francisco Zen Center. Ultimately his encounter with Buddhism brings him to a new understanding and embrace of Christianity. Weaving together meditations on Johnson's spiritual journey with history and insights from modern monks, Keeping Faith offers a blueprint for a new way of practicing faith.
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