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 by J Chester Johnson

“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.”
Lawrence Joseph

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The personal story of the retranslation of the Psalms now contained in the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer.

Auden the Psalms and me available at Amazon


St. Paul's Chapel Selected Shorter Poems by J. Chester Johnson

“Undoubtedly, this is a work headed for literary permanence in our collective ear.” - Major Jackson

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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.”
Vijay Seshadri

“What an amazing undertaking – so impressive in scope, intent and understanding. This must have taken years of energy.”
Molly Peacock


Elaine Race Massacre by J. Chester Johnson

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, whose work has been praised by leading writers and critics over a few decades, has authored numerous volumes of poetry, including St. Paul’s Chapel & Selected Shorter Poems, second edition (published in 2010 by St. Johann Press); the collection’s signature poem remains the memento card for the multitude of visitors to the chapel that survived the 9/11 terrorists’ attacks at Ground Zero (more than a million poem cards have been distributed). As The New York Times noted, “‘St. Paul’s Chapel’ has been used for the church’s memento card for more than 10 years.” American Book Review regarded the poem this way, “Johnson’s ‘St. Paul’s Chapel’ is one of the most widely distributed, lauded, and translated poems of the current century.” The well-known poet, Major Jackson, said of the volume, St. Paul’s Chapel & Selected Shorter Poems, “Undoubtedly, this is a work headed for literary permanence.”

In January, 2017, a companion volume, Now And Then: Selected Longer Poems, authored by Johnson, was published (St. Johann Press). The acclaimed poet and scholar, Lawrence Joseph, characterized the book, as follows: “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.”

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; it was also adopted as the preferred (now, permitted) Psalm translation until the Church of England produced its own retranslation in 2000. Johnson’s memoir and literary and historical commentary on the retranslation of the Psalms, Auden, the Psalms, and Me, was recently published (September, 2017) by Church Publishing Incorporated.

J. Chester Johnson has also written about civil rights and race relations. Several of his pieces are part of the J. Chester Johnson Collection in the Civil Rights Archives at Queens College (New York City). He also 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 for its role in slavery and related evils. Born white and reared in one of the country’s most racially segregated regions, Johnson responded against racism in his writings and life experiences; after MLK’s murder, he returned to the town of his youth and taught in the all African-American public school there before integration of the local education system.

Johnson has read his work at Harvard University, the National Cathedral, and on the BBC, among other venues.

J. Chester Johnson, born in Chattanooga, Tennessee, spent his youth in a small town located on the cusp of the Mississippi River Delta in southeast Arkansas. Johnson, who has lived most of his adult life in New York City, 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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- J. Chester Johnson Interviewed on Podcast for ‘Things Not Seen’ Program. Click Here For More Information.

- Poem by J. Chester Johnson Embedded in DeWoody Art. Click Here For More Information.

- J. Chester Johnson Presented At The Troubadour And At Grosvenor Chapel Click here for more details.

- J. Chester Johnson discusses Auden, the Psalms, and Me at several locations in London and also in Oxford. Click here for more information.

- Book review of Auden, the Psalms, and Me by the international literary journal, The Arkansas International. Click here for the review.

- Book review of Auden, the Psalms, and Me is posted on the website of the Florida Diocese of the Episcopal Church. Click here to read.

- The magazine, Talisman, Recently Reviewed Auden, The Psalms, And Me. Click here for the review.

- Review of J. Chester Johnson Presentation: Literary Matters. Click here for more information.

- American Book Review features poetry of J. Chester Johnson. Click here for details.

- J. Chester Johnson Makes Three Presentations As McMichael Lecturer. Click here for presentations.

- J. Chester Johnson appears as guest for National Radio Interviews on “Ed Tyll Show” of Starcom Radio Network. Click here for interview.

- 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.

- Video for Auden, the Psalms, and Me authored by J. Chester Johnson. Click here for access.

- J. Chester Johnson Is Interviewed on the Televised ‘In The Arena’ Program. Click here for the interview.

- Upcoming Events for the Two 2017 Books by J. Chester Johnson. Click here for information.

- Distinguished Alumnus J. Chester Johnson Spoke on April 26th & 27th, 2017 at the University of Arkansas. Click here for more information.

- Reflection and Reconciliation: The Elaine Race Massacre – Delta Cultural Center, Helena, Arkansas on Sunday, April 23, 2017 Click here for more information.


- J. Chester Johnson Signs "In The Rows". Click here for more information.

- J. Chester Johnson With Display of His Iconic Poem “St. Paul’s Chapel” Click here for more information.

- J. Chester Johnson Reads Poetry at Deborah Danner's Memorial Click here for more information.

- J. Chester Johnson reads his poem, "St. Paul's Chapel," at the Calling of the Names ceremony 15 years after 9/11. Click here for more information.

- J. Chester Johnson is featured in NBC New York article. Click for more information.

- J. Chester Johnson appeared at the Cornelia St. Café, 29 Cornelia Street, West Village, NYC; 6:00PM, Sunday, June 26th. Click 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.

- J. Chester Johnson read his poetry at the main NYU bookstore, 8th St./Broadway, in New York, 6:00PM, Thursday, April 14. Click for more information.

- Appearance at Heavenly Rest Episcopal Church, 90th and Fifth Avenue, Manhattan, NYC, on Thursday, Feb. 25th, at 6:30PM. For more information, click to blog.

- 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.

- Presentation at 9/11 Tribute Center (Ground Zero in New York City), Tuesday, December 15, 2015 (click here for photos and more information)

- “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

- Posted on The Best American Poetry Blog – "Working with W. H. Auden: Illuminating Interview with J. Chester Johnson in ILLUMINATIONS"

- J. Chester Johnson interview in ILLUMINATIONS Magazine (click for more information and interview)

- 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

- Ricks On Dylan (Bob, Not Thomas), published in Literary Matters (click for more information and full article)

- 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


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