Member Profile: Toni Ann Johnson

MEMBER PROFILE: Toni Ann Johnson

When and why did you become a member of PEN Center USA?
I was honored with a membership this year (2016). I’ve had the great fortune to participate in more than one PEN Center USA event and I relished those experiences.

What is most meaningful to you about PEN Center USA?
The support and encouragement that PEN Center USA offers writers. That generosity flows from those writers to other writers and fosters a larger literary community.

PEN Centers share a Freedom To Write mission, which means we believe that people should be able to read and write freely. What does Freedom To Write mean to you?
As a woman and a woman of color it means that I can write trusting that my perspective is as valid and worthwhile as the dominant perspective and that I may also write an uncensored response to the dominant perspective (if I choose), without fear of negative consequences.

Writers are using their digital media platforms to engage with readers and other writers on serious topics. Can you give an example of a writer or organization that is doing this well?
Women Who Submit (WWS). The founders looked at the VIDA count, which revealed the disproportionate numbers of men being published compared to women, and the organization was born in response. WWS maintains a website, a blog, and a twitter account. Word has traveled, resulting in WWS chapters forming across the country.

What is the one book you wish you had written and why?
Night Song by John A. Williams. Via interesting, fully realized characters, and with exquisitely rendered language, the book looks at romantic relationships, friendships, and art (in this case jazz), and the racial politics therein. It’s a masterful and memorable dream I didn’t want to wake from.

What is your favorite quote?
“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” — Mother Teresa

Who would be your ideal literary dinner guest (living or dead)?
James Baldwin.

What are you working on now?
A series of linked short stories about an upper-middle-class, African-American family living in a predominantly white, working-class small town in upstate New York during the 1960s and ‘70s. Here’s a link to one of the stories:

Toni Ann Johnson won the Humanitas Prize and The Christopher Award for her Disney/ABC teleplay Ruby Bridges. She won a second Humanitas Prize for Showtime’s Crown Heights. Johnson’s debut novel, Remedy For a Broken Angel, was published in 2014. The book won a 2015 International Latino Book Award and was also nominated for a 2015 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work by a debut author. Essays, articles, and short fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in The Los Angeles Times, The Emerson Review, Soundings Review, Elohi Gadugi Journal, Xavier Review, and Hunger Mountain. Johnson is a Sundance Screenwriter’s Lab fellow, as well as an alum of the Callaloo Writer’s Workshop. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Antioch University Los Angeles.

Check out our past Member Profiles here.