Charles Johnson: Embracing the World
New Delhi: Authorspress, 2011
Johnson extends the African American literary tradition by pushing and pulling us beyond the work of Toomer, Wright and Ellison; three writers that provide him with a lineage. In many ways Charles Johnson is our Marco Polo. His books open the door to the East. To a new generation he is well known for his Buddhist writings in popular journals. Even before the election of President Barack Obama, Johnson was asking serious questions about race. If anyone can talk about the future of America, he can. His work upholds a moral and philosophical worldview. In The Middle Passage the question is, where is home? In Dreamer the central discussion is “how do you end evil without engendering new evil? In these times of what I consider to be literary pork, it’s refreshing to find someone willing to craft and tell a good story. The work of Charles Johnson requires heavy lifting by our minds. His novels, stories and essays are healthy for us. Charles Johnson lives in Seattle. He has many friends. He is a good man. These three simple sentences are the foundation on which one could write a book. The complexity of the human spirit requires genius to make sense of what we do. Johnson is our laughing Buddha, a man with gray hair and a crown of wisdom. He is a man on “the path” teaching us to follow, if we take the time and wish to understand the way.
The erudite articles, insightful essays, vibrant poems and stories, glowing tributes and animate interviews in this memorable volume not only address multifarious dimensions of the Charles Johnson canon but also bring into bold relief the magnetic appeal of a veritable activist relentlessly engaged in making the world a better place to live in. Also included in this volume are essays and stories by Charles Johnson that illumine variant issues and concerns ranging from the ambivalence of the American Dilemma to delineating the meaning of Barack Obama, besides displaying his innate ability to contend with conflicting forces by celebrating life in the manner of Buddha, Du Bois, Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi. If Johnson admires America for being the great country where “passions define possibilities” and where “no individual or group, white or black, could tell me not to dream,” he is no less enamoured by India: “its beauty, antiquity, breath-taking art and remarkable people, the peace I feel instantly when my mind drifts to the Buddhist Dharma or Hinduism, that great democracy of Being.” Johnson combines philosophy and folklore, martial art and Buddhism, to offer incisive insights into the new frontiers of the African American experience that calls for an amalgamation of multi-disciplinary and multi-cultural perspectives. This anthology lucidly showcases the life and work of an authentic cultural ambassador who, with an intense feeling of metta towards all sentient beings, is in perpetual readiness to embrace the world in both flesh and spirit.