Denis Johnston
Denis Johnston (June 18, 1901 – August 8, 1984) was an Irish writer
A writer is a person who produces literature, such as novels, short stories, plays, screenplays, poetry, or other literary art. Skilled writers are able to use language to portray ideas and images....

. He wrote mostly plays
Play (theatre)
A play is a form of literature written by a playwright, usually consisting of scripted dialogue between characters, intended for theatrical performance rather than just reading. There are rare dramatists, notably George Bernard Shaw, who have had little preference whether their plays were performed...

, but also works of literary criticism, a book-length biographical essay of Jonathan Swift
Jonathan Swift
Jonathan Swift was an Irish satirist, essayist, political pamphleteer , poet and cleric who became Dean of St...

, a memoir
A memoir , is a literary genre, forming a subclass of autobiography – although the terms 'memoir' and 'autobiography' are almost interchangeable. Memoir is autobiographical writing, but not all autobiographical writing follows the criteria for memoir set out below...

 and an eccentric work of philosophy
Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental problems, such as those connected with existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. Philosophy is distinguished from other ways of addressing such problems by its critical, generally systematic approach and its reliance on rational...

. He also worked as a war correspondent
War correspondent
A war correspondent is a journalist who covers stories firsthand from a war zone. In the 19th century they were also called Special Correspondents.-Methods:...

, and as both a radio
Radio producer
A radio producer oversees the making of a radio show. There are two main types of producer. An audio or creative producer and a content producer. Audio producers create sounds and audio specifically, content producers oversee and orchestrate a radio show or feature...

 and television producer for the BBC. His first play, The Old Lady Says No!, helped establish the worldwide reputation of the Dublin Gate Theatre
Gate Theatre
The Gate Theatre, in Dublin, was founded in 1928 by Hilton Edwards and Micheál Mac Liammóir, initially using the Abbey Theatre's Peacock studio theatre space to stage important works by European and American dramatists...

; his second, The Moon in the Yellow River, has been performed around the globe in numerous productions featuring such actors as Jack Hawkins
Jack Hawkins
Colonel John Edward "Jack" Hawkins CBE was an English actor of the 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s.-Career:Hawkins was born at Lyndhurst Road, Wood Green, Middlesex, the son of master builder Thomas George Hawkins and his wife, Phoebe née Goodman. The youngest of four children in a close-knit family,...

, Claude Rains
Claude Rains
Claude Rains was an English stage and film actor whose career spanned 66 years. He was known for many roles in Hollywood films, among them the title role in The Invisible Man , a corrupt senator in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington , Mr...

 and Errol Flynn
Errol Flynn
Errol Leslie Flynn was an Australian-born actor. He was known for his romantic swashbuckler roles in Hollywood films, being a legend and his flamboyant lifestyle.-Early life:...

, although not all in the same production.

Johnston was a protégé of WB Yeats and Shaw
George Bernard Shaw
George Bernard Shaw was an Irish playwright and a co-founder of the London School of Economics. Although his first profitable writing was music and literary criticism, in which capacity he wrote many highly articulate pieces of journalism, his main talent was for drama, and he wrote more than 60...

, and had a stormy friendship with Sean O'Casey
Seán O'Casey
Seán O'Casey was an Irish dramatist and memoirist. A committed socialist, he was the first Irish playwright of note to write about the Dublin working classes.- Early life:...

. He was a pioneer of television and war reporting. He worked as a lawyer in the 1920s and 1930s before joining the BBC as a writer and producer, first in radio and then in the fledgling television service. During the Second World War he served as a BBC war correspondent, reporting from El Alamein
El Alamein
El Alamein is a town in the northern Matrouh Governorate of Egypt. Located on the Mediterranean Sea, it lies west of Alexandria and northwest of Cairo. As of 2007, it has a local population of 7,397 inhabitants.- Climate :...

 to Buchenwald. For this he was awarded an OBE
Order of the British Empire
The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire is an order of chivalry established on 4 June 1917 by George V of the United Kingdom. The Order comprises five classes in civil and military divisions...

 1945. He then became Director of Programmes for the television service.

Johnston later moved to the United States and taught at Mount Holyoke College
Mount Holyoke College
Mount Holyoke College is a liberal arts college for women in South Hadley, Massachusetts. It was the first member of the Seven Sisters colleges, and served as a model for some of the others...

, Smith College
Smith College
Smith College is a private, independent women's liberal arts college located in Northampton, Massachusetts. It is the largest member of the Seven Sisters...

 and other universities. He kept extensive diaries throughout his life, now deposited in the Library
Trinity College Library, Dublin
Trinity College Library Dublin, the centrally-administered library of Trinity College, Dublin, is the largest library in Ireland. As a "copyright library", it has legal deposit rights for material published in the Republic of Ireland; it is also the only Irish library to hold such rights for the...

 of Trinity College, Dublin
Trinity College, Dublin
Trinity College, Dublin , formally known as the College of the Holy and Undivided Trinity of Queen Elizabeth near Dublin, was founded in 1592 by letters patent from Queen Elizabeth I as the "mother of a university", Extracts from Letters Patent of Elizabeth I, 1592: "...we...found and...

, and these together with his many articles and essays give a distinctive picture of his times and the people he knew. He received honorary degrees from the University of Ulster
University of Ulster
The University of Ulster is a multi-campus, co-educational university located in Northern Ireland. It is the largest single university in Ireland, discounting the federal National University of Ireland...

 and Mount Holyoke College
Mount Holyoke College
Mount Holyoke College is a liberal arts college for women in South Hadley, Massachusetts. It was the first member of the Seven Sisters colleges, and served as a model for some of the others...

 and was a member of Aosdána
Aosdána is an Irish association of Artists. It was created in 1981 on the initiative of a group of writers and with support from the Arts Council of Ireland. Membership, which is by invitation from current members, is limited to 250 individuals; before 2005 it was limited to 200...


His daughter Jennifer Johnston
Jennifer Johnston
Jennifer Johnston is an Irish novelist, winner of the Whitbread Book Award for The Old Jest in 1979, and was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1977...

 is a respected novelist and playwright.


  • The Old Lady Says 'No!' (1929)
  • The Moon in the Yellow River (1931)
  • A Bride for the Unicorn (1933)
  • Storm Song (1934)
  • Blind Man's Buff (1936) (with Ernst Toller
    Ernst Toller
    Ernst Toller was a left-wing German playwright, best known for his Expressionist plays and serving as President of the short-lived Bavarian Soviet Republic, for six days.- Biography :...

  • The Golden Cuckoo (1939)
  • The Dreaming Dust (1940)
  • A Fourth for Bridge (1948)
  • 'Strange Occurrence on Ireland's Eye' (1956)
  • Tain Bo Cuailgne - Pageant of Cuchulainn (1956)
  • The Scythe and the Sunset (1958)

  • In Search of Swift (1959)
  • John Millington Synge (1965)

  • Nine Rivers from Jordan (1953)
  • Orders and Desecrations (1992) (ed. Rory Johnston)

  • The Brazen Horn (1976)

Opera Libretti
  • Six Characters in Search of an Author
    Six Characters in Search of an Author (opera)
    Six Characters in Search of an Author is an opera in three acts by composer Hugo Weisgall. The work uses an English libretto by Denis Johnston that is based on the play of the same name by Luigi Pirandello. The opera was commissioned by the New York City Opera under the leadership Julius Rudel...

  • Nine Rivers from Jordan
    Nine Rivers from Jordan
    Nine Rivers from Jordan is an opera in a prologue and three acts by composer Hugo Weisgall. The work uses an English libretto by Denis Johnston and tells the story of a British soldier during World War II who lets a prisoner of war escape. The work premiered on October 9, 1968 at the New York City...


External links

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