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A Posthumous Prize for Denis Johnson


Denis Johnson in 1985.

Jack Manning/The New York Times

The obituaries for the novelist and poet Denis Johnson, who died in May at age 67, mentioned his National Book Award, his many rave reviews, his almost saintly status as “a writer’s writer’s writer.” Now, he is collecting another prestigious accolade.

The Library of Congress has announced that Mr. Johnson will be the winner of its annual Prize for American Fiction, to be formally bestowed on Sept. 2, as part of the National Book Festival in Washington. Mr. Johnson’s widow, Cindy Johnson, will accept the award on his behalf.

Mr. Johnson, who suffered from liver cancer, was offered the prize in March, and reacted with exuberance. “My head’s spinning from such great news!” he wrote. Previous winners include Marilynne Robinson, Toni Morrison, Don DeLillo and John Grisham.

In a statement, Carla Hayden, the Librarian of Congress, praised the “profound empathy” of Mr. Johnson’s work, which includes the short story collection “Jesus’ Son,” inspired in part by his own experiences with addiction, and “Tree of Smoke,” a sprawling, hallucinatory novel about Vietnam that won the 2007 National Book Award.

“In prose that fused grace with grit, he spun tale after tale about our waking wounded, the demons that haunt, the salvation we seek,” Dr. Hayden said.

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