Mat Johnson

Mat Johnson photo

Mat Johnson is a 1-Time Bestselling Author

Mat Johnson is was born, August 19th 1970, to an Irish American man and an African American woman. Five years after his parents’ divorce, Mat was living with his social-worker mother in the predominantly black, working class Philly neighborhood of Germantown.

A consistently poor student, Mat easily maintained a D average by spending class time reading novels in his lap, pretending to be asleep. After barely getting in to a local state college, Mat finally applied himself, resulting in acceptance to a year-long foreign exchange program as a sophomore to the University of Wales at Swansea, his first time away from Philly, and an experience that would change his life. Transferring his junior year to the Quaker Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana, Mat’s work as the black student union president won him the prestigious Thomas J. Watson Fellowship for future leaders. For his fellowship topic Mat researched the effects of international experiences on African Americans. Using London as his base, Mat traveled through Europe and West Africa interviewing black expatriates.

Unfortunately when the year was over Mat was forced to leave his London home and come back to Philly, eking out a living at a series of minimum-wage jobs (including working for the electric company). Back in poverty, obsessed with London to the point that he dreamed himself there nightly, Mat desperately tried to write a commercially-driven novel in the hopes of selling it and returning, often writing at the job while his coworkers covered the phone. By the end of this time, Mat had learned two things: 1. He loved writing far too much to put out another piece of junk into the world, and 2. He wasn’t good enough to do anything but write junk.

Mat spent the next year immersed in raising the level of his prose and storytelling, sleeping on his mother’s couch (at that time in Anchorage, Alaska). Eventually he was accepted to Columbia University’s Graduate Writing Program. It was in graduate school that Mat found a writing partner in fellow student Victor D. LaValle, whom he met in a workshop led by Michael Cunningham. The two eventually found an apartment together in nearby Harlem, thereby forming a friendship that would influence both of their writing. LaValle’s, Slapboxing With Jesus and Mat’s DROP were written at the same time, at opposite ends of the apartment.

Johnson’s work is also included in the following anthology:

the best aa fictionThe Best African American Fiction (2009)
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Paperback: 336 pages
Publisher: Bantam (January 13, 2009)
Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.1 x 1 inches

Introducing the first volume in an exciting new annual anthology featuring the year’s most outstanding fiction by some of today’s finest African American writers.

From stories that depict black life in times gone by to those that address contemporary issues, this inaugural volume gathers the very best recent African American fiction. Created during a period of electrifying political dialogue and cultural, social, and economic change that is sure to captivate the imaginations of writers and readers for years to come, these short stories and novel excerpts explore a rich variety of subjects. But most of all, they represent exceptional artistry.

Here youill find work by both established names and up-and-comers, ranging from Walter Dean Myers to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Mat Johnson, and Junot Diaz. They write about subjects as diverse as the complexities of black middle-class life and the challenges of interracial relationships, a modern-day lynching in the South and a young musician’s coming-of-age during the Harlem Renaissance. What unites these stories, whether set in suburbia, in eighteenth-century New York City, or on a Caribbean island that is supposed to be "brown skin paradise," is their creators’ passionate engagement with matters of the human heart.

Masterful and engaging, this first volume of Best African American Fiction features stories you’ll want to savor, share, and return to again and again.

photo credit: WideVision Photography/Marcia Wilson for Mosaic Literary Magazine

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10 Books by Mat Johnson