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Writers in the Library Hosts Author of Novel Set in North Korea

AdamJohnsonAdam Johnson, author of the acclaimed new novel The Orphan Master’s Son, will read at UT’s Writers in the Library, 7 p.m., Monday, October 29, in the John C. Hodges Library auditorium. The reading is free and open to the public.

Dystopian views of the future dominate Johnson’s short stories and his first novel, Parasites Like Us. In The Orphan Master’s Son Johnson portrays the very real, nightmarish kingdom of present-day North Korea. Through the narration of Jun Do (John Doe?) and the ubiquitous loudspeakers constantly blaring propaganda, the reader is immersed in a totalitarian culture in which the state directs the very thoughts of its citizens.

Adam Johnson on The Orphan Master’s Son and his trip to North Korea:

“…[W]hen Kim Jong Il comes to power, all is strength, happiness and prosperity. It didn’t matter that the story was a complete fiction — every citizen was forced to become a character whose motivations, desires and fears were dictated by this script. The labor camps were filled with those who hadn’t played their parts, who’d spoken of deprivation instead of plenitude and the purest democracy.…Traveling to North Korea filled me with a sense that every person there, from the lowliest laborer to military leaders, had to surrender a rich private life in order to enact one pre-written by the Party. To capture this on the page, I created characters across all levels of society, from the orphan soldier to the Party leaders. And since Kim Jong Il had written the script for all of North Korea, my novel didn’t make sense without writing his role as well.” [from an interview]

Johnson teaches creative writing at Stanford University. He received a Whiting Writers’ Award for emerging writers in 2009 and was named Debut Writer of the Year in 2002 by His fiction has appeared in Esquire, Harper’s, Playboy, Paris Review, Tin House and Best American Short Stories. Johnson is the author of Emporium, a short-story collection, and the novel Parasites Like Us, which won a California Book Award. His books have been translated into French, Dutch, Japanese, Catalan, German, Spanish, Italian, Hebrew, Polish, Portuguese and Serbian.

Johnson is one of the founders of Stanford’s Graphic Novel Project, which each year brings together a team of student writers and artists to create graphic novels that draw on real-world situations, often involving society’s dispossessed. GNP’s projects have featured stories of human-rights abuses, touching on issues such as rape as a weapon of war, child soldiers, and human trafficking. (Read more about comics produced by the Stanford Graphic Novel Project in The Comics Journal.)

Writers in the Library is sponsored by the University of Tennessee, Knoxville Libraries and the UT Creative Writing Program in association with the John C. Hodges Better English Fund. For further information contact Marilyn Kallet, Director, UT Creative Writing Program (, or Christopher Hebert, Writer-in-Residence, UT Libraries (

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