Johnston, Walter



October 8, 1938 -

December 26, 2022

Dillon Johnston, founder in 1975 of Wake Forest University Press and Emeritus Professor of English at Wake Forest University where he taught for 27 years, died December 26, 2002, at the age of 84.

Wake Forest University Press continues to be the leading publisher of Irish poetry in the United States. In a collection of tributes to Johnston's career published by the Press in 2015, The Shack, the Irish poet Michael Longley writes, "Who is more thoughtful than Dillon? He is a visionary. Many Irish poets give thanks that he so resolutely kept his head in the clouds."

One of four sons of Jane Dillon Johnston and Richard Boles Johnston, Dillon was born October 8, 1938, in Boston and grew up in Atlanta (Buckhead on Piedmont Road). He is survived by his three brothers: Dick Johnston (Mary Anne) of Superior, CO; Chuck Johnston (JoElyn) of Atlanta; and Warren Johnston (Sandy) of South Royalton, VT. Dillon was a leader, played football, and ran track at North Fulton High School. He received a football scholarship to Vanderbilt University and earned an MA in English Literature at Columbia University after serving in the Coast Guard. He earned a Ph.D. in English Literature from the University of Virginia, writing a dissertation on Victorian autobiography.

Director of the Washington University Creative Writing Program from 2002 to 2005, he continued to teach courses on modern Irish literature in the English Department until his retirement in 2015. Dillon's relationship to literature was never merely scholarly but impassioned. To talk with him about a poem was to understand what poetry was on the deepest level," said novelist Kathryn Davis.

Johnston authored books and essays on Irish literature, and, with his wife Guinn Batten, co-authored the modern Irish poetry section for the "The Cambridge History of Irish Literature". His books include Irish Poetry After Joyce, and The Poetic Economies of England and Ireland, 1912-2000.

He is survived by his wife, Margaret Guinn Batten, of St. Louis, MO; and by his first wife, Anne Coggan Johnston of Winston-Salem, NC, and St. Louis. He is the father of two children, Kathleen Coggan Johnston of Baltimore and Devin Dillon Johnston (Andrea) of St. Louis; and three grandchildren: Cole Borhani of Baltimore, and Hazel Johnston and Clyde Johnston of St. Louis.

Memorial donations may be made to Wake Forest University Press.

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