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Skidmore College

Novelist, philosopher Charles Johnson speaks at Skidmore

April 26, 2021

Noted African American novelist and philosopher Charles Johnson read from some of his works and joined Skidmore College President Marc Conner and Visiting Distinguished Writer-in-Residence Calvin Baker in a Q&A discussion. 

Following a virtual reading and discussion, the floor opened for additional questions from the audience. 

The Thursday, April 29, event was sponsored by Skidmore’s Racial Justice Initiative, in partnership with the College’s English, Black Studies, Asian Studies, Philosophy and Art departments and Tang Teaching Museum.

Charles JohnsonArguably one of the most important African American novelists of the 20th and 21st centuries, Johnson is the author of “Faith and the Good Thing” (1974); “Oxherding Tale” (1983), a retelling of the organic American form of the slave narrative for the late 20th century; “Middle Passage” (1990), which chronicles the horrors of the Atlantic slave trade and earned Johnson the National Book Award; and “Dreamer” (1998), a bold fictional account of the final years of the life of Martin Luther King Jr.   

“Johnson’s fiction shows a range of thought and form perhaps without parallel in American literary history: ranging from magical realism to brutal naturalistic description, from the conjuring tale to the fable, from rollicking comedy to poignant tragedy,” said Conner, a widely published literary scholar and an editor of the 2007 volume “Charles Johnson: The Novelist as Philosopher.” 

Baker is an acclaimed chronicler of the African American experience. His most recent book is “A More Perfect Reunion: Race, Integration and the Future of America.” 

In addition to his novels, Johnson has published four volumes of short fiction: “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” (1986), “Soulcatcher” (1998), “Dr. King’s Refrigerator: And Other Bedtime Stories” (2007), and “Night Hawks: Stories” (2018). 

As much a philosopher as a fiction writer, Johnson is a practicing Buddhist who was raised in the A.M.E. Church; a Sanskrit scholar who holds a doctorate in western philosophy; and a martial artist. He is also an accomplished visual artist who began publishing his own cartoons in the late 1960s and has produced two volumes of visual art.    

A dedicated teacher of writing and literature for more than three decades, his published works also include numerous essays and two major photo-biographies of the Civil Rights era. 

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