UW News

November 9, 2010

Charles Johnson to deliver Libraries Maxine Cushing Gray Lecture, Nov. 19

Charles Johnson, recipient of the 2010 Maxine Cushing Gray Visiting Writers Fellowship Award at UW Libraries, will give a lecture at 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 19, in 220 Odegaard Undergraduate Library. The event is free and open to the public; reservations are recommended. To register, call 206-616-8397 or send an e-mail

A philosopher, novelist, essayist, short story writer, and scholar of black American literature and Buddhism, Charles Johnson is the author of the novel Middle Passage, which won the National Book Award in 1990 — the first time the award was given to an African American male since Ralph Ellison in 1953.

A popular professor, Johnson retired in 2009 after 33 years of teaching at the UW. He continues his work as an editor, cartoonist, and journalist.

Born in Evanston, Ill., Johnson began his career as a cartoonist and illustrator. After studying with cartoonist Lawrence Lariar, he began publishing stories and comic art at the age of 17. His two collections of political cartoons, Black Humor and Half-Past Nation Time, published as he was completing his bachelor’s degree in journalism, were acclaimed for their subtle but pointed satire of race relations, and their success led to Charlie’s Pad, a 1970 how-to-draw series on public television that Johnson created, co-produced, and hosted.

Johnson published his first novel, Faith and the Good Thing, in 1974. Since then he has authored 17 books, more than 20 screenplays, 1,000 drawings, and numerous essays, articles, short stories, literary reviews and works of criticism. With a doctorate in philosophy, Johnson is a practicing Buddhist who specialized in phenomenology, aesthetics and eastern thought, He is the recipient of many awards, including NEA and Guggenheim fellowships, a Writers Guild Award, and a MacArthur Fellowship. His novel Middle Passage has just been leased by D.C. Comics to become a graphic novel in the near future.

The Maxine Cushing Gray Visiting Writers Fellowship was moved to the UW Libraries in 2004. The original award was established in 1985 at the Seattle Foundation by friends and admirers of the late Maxine Cushing Gray, who sought to honor her contributions to journalism and her tireless work to recognize and encourage excellence in writing.

As the Libraries’ writer-in-residence, Johnson will receive a $5,000 stipend, and will lead a seminar with UW students.