Graphic Novelist Mat Johnson On Campus to Discuss New Book

Mat Johnson

Award-winning American novelist Mat Johnson was on campus today to talk to students about growing up as a black boy who looked white.  His latest book, Incognegro, required reading for Prep’s juniors, confronts the issues of racial identity and lynchings in the American south through a “noir” graphic novel.

Of Irish and African descent, Johnson lived in an African-American neighborhood during the height of the Black Power era and says he stood out to the point his mother got him a dashiki so he would fit in with the other kids.  But, says Johnson, “the contrast between the colorful African garb and my nearly blond, straight brown hair just made things worse.” 

So, along with his half black/half Jewish cousin, he started dreaming about living in another time where his ethnic appearance wouldn’t matter, and where they would go “incognegro.”  This childhood fantasy came to life for Johnson through the experiences of Walter White, former head of the NAACP, and Johnson writes that “…what once seemed silly was turning into something I had to write about.”

Johnson has published two novels, Drop and Hunting in Harlem, and a nonfiction book, The Great Negro Plot.  He ventured into the graphic novel genre with the publication of Hellblazer: Papa Midnite.  He is the recipient of the Hurston-Wright Legacy Award for fiction and the USA James Baldwin Fellowship for Literature.  He teaches at the University of Houston Writing Program.