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Literary World Loses Jill Johnston at 81

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"Johnson comes on like a flood, vivacious, mile-a-minute, with an uncontrollable eloquence." ~New York Review of Books

2010-09-20-JJChlST2.jpeg We should rightly take note today that respected author and critic, Jill Johnston, passed away from the complications of heart surgery on Saturday, September 18. She was 81.

Younger readers of the Huffington Post may not be familiar with her name, but it would serve them well to look at her legacy, which is stunning in it breadth, scope and social relevance. A longtime writer for the Village Voice, an author and cultural commentator, Johnston was always years ahead of her time. The literary world has lost a giant.

Johnston, in some circles, is remembered most as one of the first intelligent and honest champions of the lesbian and gay movements of the early 1970s. In later years, Johnston referred to her book Lesbian Nation as "a period piece," preferring to discuss England's Child, "long the book I had seen as my life's goal."

Johnston offered these insights and more in a piece she offered the Huffington Post on Sarah Palin in 2008.

You can find Johnston's take on her own biography on her website.

One starts somewhere. My career as a writer began in the minimal and marginalized field of dance criticism. Despite, or perhaps because of, its low place on the cultural totem pole, I had a compelling ambition to excel at it and make it my own.

Image from Jill Johnston's webpage

I honestly do not know what else to say about this remarkable woman except that I am hoping that someone of better literary stature than myself will write a tribute.

What I can say from the heart is that I met Johnston in the early seventies. I was just a kid, really, unsure of myself and uncertain. Johnston was already a "celebrity" of sorts due to her antics in and out of the feminist movement of those days. She took the time to encourage me, and I can say with assurance that I would not be "me" without her influence and inspiration.

We were not friends, as such, but reconnected two years ago for the Huffington Post piece. I will remember her always as gracious and patient.

Johnston also wrote, "We have to become whatever we do next. We have to be whatever they like to say we are when we do something. We can be whatever we like."

Even in the face of celebrity status, Johnston did not stop there. She evolved, and her commentary continued with perceptive and penetrating insights into culture and mores.

Time will prove that her literary legacy is unsurpassed.

You can find additional commentary from the Dance Insider and a note from Johnston's companion of 30 years, Ingrid Nyeboe, here.

Memorial arrangements will be announced.

Updates

Here are some updates and tributes. Again, Jill Johnston would not be happy with the focus on radical feminist writing that represented only 4 of over 50 years of literary and social commentary. Read with a critical eye and get a better idea of the woman who changed the course of feminist thinking, and went on to develop an extraordinary body of work.

This piece from the Canadian Broadcasting Company is a gem. You hear Johnston speaking in her incredible punctuation-less prose style at the historic 1972 Town Hall meeting with Norman Mailer that forever changed the feminist debate.

Go to THIRD segment and move timer to 15:30 (it takes a minute to load).

The New York Times Obituary