Diane Johnson

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Diane Johnson
BornDiane Lain
(1934-04-28) April 28, 1934 (age 88)
Moline, Illinois, United States
CitizenshipUnited States
GenresFiction, satire, essays, screenwriting
Notable awardsAmerican Academy of Arts and Letters, 1999

Diane Johnson (born Diane Lain, April 28, 1934), is an American novelist and essayist whose satirical novels often feature American heroines living abroad in contemporary France. She was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for her novel Persian Nights in 1988.


Born Diane Lain in Moline, Illinois, Johnson has authored books including Lulu in Marrakech (2008), L'Affaire (2003), Le Mariage (2000), and Le Divorce (1997), for which she was a National Book Award finalist and the winner of the California Book Award gold medal for fiction. Her memoir Flyover Lives was released in January 2014.

She has been a frequent contributor to The New York Review of Books since the mid-1970s. With filmmaker Stanley Kubrick, Johnson co-authored the screenplay to The Shining (1980), based on the horror novel of the same name by Stephen King.[1]

In 2003, Le Divorce, a film adaptation of her 1997 comedy of manners novel of the same name, was released, directed by James Ivory and starred Kate Hudson and Naomi Watts.[2]

Personal life[edit]

Johnson attended Stephens College, a small women's college in Missouri. In her sophomore year, she entered the Mademoiselle magazine Guest Editor contest and was selected as one of 20 women from across the United States to work on the magazine for a month in New York City in 1953. The month at the magazine would prove to be formative in her eventual career as a writer. Another member of the group was Sylvia Plath who would write about the experience in her 1963 novel The Bell Jar.

Johnson shadowed the Health and Beauty editor and was responsible for answering readers' questions about makeup. In a piece she wrote for the September 2003 edition of Vogue magazine, Johnson said: "I still have a strong memory of Plath's white straw beret, her blonde pageboy and cheerful face. (None of us understood the anguish of her secret life, though maybe the editors did, for they treated her carefully, the one most destined to succeed.)"

In the Vogue article, Johnson wrote the month at Mademoiselle and her exposure to Plath taught her a key lesson. "I realized that if you took pains with your writing, you could make art, and that the rather facile little stories I had dashed off for my English classes or the school magazine were probably not art. It was, in fact, the example of "Sunday at the Mintons'," Sylvia Plath's winning story in the Guest Editor contest, that made that point to me and changed my life, though not immediately."

Johnson went on to say, "Writing was a serious form of work, and to be serious, like those New York editors, you had to send in your stories. Writers and editors were embarked on a consequential enterprise, the business of literature and books. What happiness to have been taught that lesson; I did send in my novels."

That same year, 1953, Johnson married B. Lamar Johnson Jr. Within eight years, she had given birth to four children with him: Kevin, Darcy, Amanda, and Simon. In the Vogue article she wrote, "Novel-writing would become my refuge during moments snatched during their naps and play visits. New York...came to symbolize a road not taken, but I was not sorry, exactly, for if I had stayed in New York, I probably would not have done my writing."

After separating from and divorcing Johnson, in 1968 she married John Frederic Murray, a physician who became chief of pulmonary and critical care at San Francisco General Hospital. After Murray's retirement, the two divided their time between homes in Paris, where Murray died of COVID-19 on March 24, 2020 at the age of 92, and San Francisco.[3]



  • Fair Game (1965)
  • Loving Hands at Home (1968)
  • Burning (Dutton, 1971)
  • The Shadow Knows (Dutton, 1974)
  • Lying low (Knopf, 1978)
  • Persian Nights (Knopf, 1987)
  • Health and Happiness (Knopf, 1990)
  • Le Divorce (Dutton, 1997)
  • Le Mariage (Dutton, 2000)
  • L'Affaire (Dutton, 2003)
  • Lulu in Marrakech (Dutton, 2008)
  • Lorna Mott Comes Home (Knopf, 2021)


  • The True History of Mrs. Meredith and Other Lesser Lives (Knopf, 1972)
  • Dashiell Hammett: A Life (1983)
  • Natural Opium: Some Travelers' Tales (Knopf, 1993)
  • Terrorists and Novelists: Essays (Knopf, 1982).
  • Into a Paris Quartier: Reine Margot's Chapel and Other Haunts of St.-Germain (National Geographic Directions, 2005)
  • Flyover Lives: A Memoir (Viking, 2014)


  1. ^ Goldstein, Bill (March 7, 2000). "Audio Interview: Diane Johnson". The New York Times.
  2. ^ Scott, A. O. (August 8, 2003). "FILM REVIEW; Paris in the Summer, When It Sits There". The New York Times.
  3. ^ Whiting, Sam (March 25, 2020). "Dr. John Murray, former SF General physician, killed by COVID-19 complications". San Francisco Chronicle.

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