Reared in a tight-knit Midwestern black community, Charles Johnson remembers his childhood environment as loving and secure. An only child, he often read to fill up his time. Johnson especially loved comic books and spent hours practicing drawing in hopes of becoming a professional cartoonist. To this end he took a two-year correspondence course and was publishing cartoons and illustrations by the time he completed high school.
At the last minute Johnson decided to attend Southern Illinois University rather than art school. There he became passionately drawn to the study of philosophy and to writing. During his first summer vacation he began to pursue another lifelong interest, the martial arts. Before his undergraduate college days were over he had published a book of his own cartoons, Black Humor (1970), had hosted a television series on drawing, and had worked as a reporter for the Chicago Tribune. In 1970, he married Joan New, whom he had met two years earlier.
After graduation, Johnson began working as a reporter for the Illinoisan; already, however, he had decided to become a novelist. Over the next two years, with John Gardner (1933-1982) as his mentor, he wrote six “apprentice novels.” Finally, in 1974, he published Faith and the Good Thing, which he had extensively researched while completing his master’s degree in philosophy and writing a thesis on Marxism.
Johnson continued his...
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