J. Chester Johnson has written verse for more than forty years. Over this period, his work has received praise from writers and poets spanning several decades – from, among others, Poet Laureate Allen Tate and Nobel Laureate I. B. Singer to current, well-recognized poets, such as Molly Peacock, Major Jackson, Lawrence Joseph and Vijay Seshadri.
NOW AND THEN: SELECTED LONGER POEMS
“The scope of NOW AND THEN is epic. It provides its readers with the same amplitude of intelligence, passion and formal achievement as our great American epics – Melville’s MOBY DICK, Whitman’s LEAVES OF GRASS, and Ginsberg’s FALL OF AMERICA. It is a book of fierce spiritual and moral witness, energy and power.”
AUDEN, THE PSALMS, AND ME
To be published by Church Publishing, Inc., the publishing arm of the Episcopal Church, in September, 2017.
The personal story of the retranslation of the Psalms now contained in the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer.
ST. PAUL’S CHAPEL & SELECTED SHORTER POEMS
“Undoubtedly, this is a work headed for literary permanence in our collective ear.”
FOR CONDUCT AND INNOCENTS
Johnson’s drama in verse, “For Conduct And Innocents,” about the martyr and 20th century theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, was presented as a multi-media event (drama, music, dance, film) on Oct. 18, 2015 at Trinity Wall Street with nearly 50 performers participating.
Click here to see the full performance.
To read the full text, click here.
“I love the Bonhoeffer play...The whole dynamic of moral indignation and spiritual ardor, combining and recombining there in endless variation – a quality the lyrics also possess – made the reading fascinating.”
“What an amazing undertaking – so impressive in scope, intent and understanding. This must have taken years of energy.”
ELAINE RACE MASSACRE
Johnson’s literary work, Elaine Race Massacre, was presented as a multi-media production (dramatic reading, music, dance, and visual images) on February 19th at Trinity Church Wall Street. The piece is written in the form of persona voices with prose and poetry being employed for historical pertinence and lyrical effect. The Elaine Race Massacre of 1919, which occurred in a rural area on the Arkansas side of the Mississippi River Delta, may be the most significant murderous attack against African-Americans in our country’s history, but out of the brutality and death rose a case, Moore v. Dempsey, that was decided by the U. S. Supreme Court in 1923 and that breathed life, for the first time, into the 14th Amendment (equal protection under the law), providing the underpinnings to the civil rights movement. The persona voices in the performance included massacre victims, members of the Supreme Court, and the genuine American hero, Scipio Africanus Jones, the African-American lawyer from Little Rock who represented black sharecroppers, found guilty of murder in unfair and rapid trials immediately following the cessation of the massacre.
About the Author
J. Chester Johnson is a poet, essayist, and translator. His writings have been published domestically and abroad and translated into several languages. Johnson has authored numerous volumes of poetry, including St. Paul’s Chapel & Selected Shorter Poems, second edition (St. Johann Press); the collection’s signature poem remains the memento card for the thousands of weekly visitors to the iconic chapel that survived the 9/11 terrorists’ attacks at Ground Zero. As The New York Times noted, “‘St. Paul’s Chapel’ has been used for the church’s memento card for more than ten years.” In January 2017, a companion volume authored by Johnson, Now And Then: Selected Longer Poems, was published (St. Johann Press). Johnson and W. H. Auden served as the two poets on the drafting committee for the retranslation of the psalms, which is the version contained in the current edition of the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church; the retranslation has been adopted by Lutherans in Canada and the United States and by the Anglican Church of Canada; additionally, it was adopted as the preferred (now, permitted) psalm translation until the Church of England produced its own version in 2000. In the fall of 2017, his book, Auden, The Psalms And Me, the story of the retranslation and part memoir, part history, part literary criticism, will be published by Church Publishing, Inc., the publishing arm of the Episcopal Church. Johnson has also written on the American Civil Rights Movement; at the request of the Episcopal Church, he authored the Litany of Offense and Apology in poetry and prose for the national Day of Repentance (October 4, 2008) when the Episcopal Church formally apologized, with the Presiding Bishop officiating, for its role in transatlantic slavery and related evils; the piece is one of several works constituting the J. Chester Johnson Collection in the Civil Rights Archives at Queens College (New York City). Johnson has read his work at Harvard University, the National Cathedral and on the BBC.
J. Chester Johnson, born in Chattanooga, Tennessee, spent his youth in Monticello, Arkansas, a small town located on the cusp of the Mississippi River Delta in southeast Arkansas. He has lived most of his adult life in New York City and is married to Freda Stern Johnson; they have two children. For over three decades, in addition to his writing, Johnson owned and ran a financial advisory firm that concentrated on debt management for states, large local governments, and public authorities; he also served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of the U. S. Treasury Department during the Carter Administration. Johnson was educated at Harvard College and the University of Arkansas (Distinguished Alumnus Award, 2010).
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- On Oct. 29th, 2017, J. Chester Johnson read from and discussed his two newest books at Poets House with an introduction and commentary by Cornelius Eady. Click here for audio presentation of the event.
- MULTI-MEDIA PERFORMANCE: PERSONA VOICES FROM THE LITERARY WORK, “ELAINE RACE MASSACRE,” WRITTEN BY J. CHESTER JOHNSON
Was Held At Trinity Church: SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 19TH. Click here for more information.
- Based on multiple requests, the serialized article, Evanescence: The Elaine Race Massacre, published in Green Mountains Review, is being reposted. Click here to access the composite, complete article.
- Moderator for reading/discussion by Reginald Dwayne Betts at Trinity Wall Street, Parish Center, 2 Rector Street, NYC, on Sunday, Feb. 21st, 2016. Click here for commentary on Betts’ poetry by J. Chester Johnson.
- “For Conduct and Innocents” A Multimedia Performance, Based On The Drama In Verse By J. Chester Johnson
(click for more information, performance and text)
Took place on October 18, 2015 at Trinity Church, New York, NY
- Lecture on Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Theologian and Martyr (click for more information and written remarks)
Took place at Trinity Wall Street, Broadway and Wall, NYC, Sunday, June 14, 2015
- Click for info, written remarks and audio of "Poetry: Uniting Commerce and Verse to Enhance Life and Work"
Panel discussion held on March 4th at Poets House, NY, NY sponsored by the Senior Committee of the Harvard Business School Club of New York
- Honoring Martin Luther King Jr. with a sermon at Trinity Wall Street, January 18th, 2015
Click on link above to watch video. Provided by Trinity Wall Street.
- Article in THE EPISCOPAL NEW YORKER (click for more information and full article)
“After Sins of the Fathers, Steps Toward Reconciliation,” written by Lynn Goswick
- Upcoming: J. Chester Johnson will be interviewed by Ann Cefola
in the June, 2015 edition of the literary journal, Illuminations.
- Downtown Panel Will Tackle Legacy of One of Nation's Deadliest Race Riots
By Irene Plagianos on DNAinfo New York
- Symposium on The Elaine Race Massacre: The Racial Conflagration That Changed American History
Held on Saturday, September 20th, 2014, at St. Paul's Chapel, New York, NY (See details on Blog)
- A Massacre in Arkansas: Facing Love and History
Published on Best American Poetry Blog