A. Rafael Johnson was born in 1970. As a child, he lived in and around Binghamton, Austin, and Rockland County, NY, where he attended Clarkstown High School North (Go Rams!) He spent most summers with his extended family in rural Arkansas. His cousins teased him about his middle name, similar to a red-headed comic relief character on a popular sitcom. He played tuba. He hated writing.
A. Rafael Johnson earned a BA in Drama from The University of Texas, where he studied under performance artist Linda Montano and co-founded the performance art group softmen with Fausto Fernos and Chris Rincòn. He directed and acted in Austin, mainly at the Vortex Theatre. He also worked as a stage manager at the University of Texas Performing Arts Center (now Texas Performing Arts) and other venues, working with Maya Angelou, Merce Cunningham, The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, Danny Glover, Willie Nelson, Cesaria Evora, McCoy Tyner, Tori Amos, Charlie Haden, Herbie Hancock, Branford Marsalis, Wynton Marsalis, Cassandra Wilson, and other stars. He even met the actor who played the namesake red-headed comic relief character his cousins used to tease him about. He quit playing tuba. He still hated writing.
Sometime in the early 2000’s, A. Rafael Johnson (as ulitave) began Absinthe Party in the Fly Honey Warehouse, a blog chronicling his life as an African-American single parent. By now, he liked writing. A bit.
Sekou Sundiata workshopped his final piece, 51st (Dream) State with Johnson and other local writers. After a long talk with Sundiata, Johnson took his writing seriously.
A. Rafael Johnson went on to publish a few short stories, and wrote Whorizontal, a monthly column about sex in Central Texas for Whoopsy! Magazine.
A. Rafael Johnson entered The University of Alabama MFA Creative Writing program in 2008. He edited for Black Warrior Review and Fairy Tale Review. He interrupted his studies to teach in post-conflict Liberia as part of USAID-funded reconstruction efforts. Among other things, Johnson taught composition and literature at Cuttington University and was the national distribution manager for Books for Africa. After returning, Johnson completed his MFA and remained on campus, lecturing in composition, literature, hip hop, spoken word, and creative writing.
In 2014, A. Rafael Johnson was named a Kimbilio Fellow in African American Fiction. His story, The Boy Who Climbed His Mother Into Heaven was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. His essay Wince: George and Trayvon was also nominated for a Pushcart Prize. From 2014 – 2016, he ran the Pure Products Reading and Lecture Series in Tuscaloosa and Northport, AL. He also coached participants in Poetry Out Loud and Writers in the Schools.
In 2015, A. Rafael Johnson began examining old notes from his life in Liberia and his return to the States. He started tinkering with the voices he found running through his notes, who eventually turned into Ben, Adrian, Free Cookie, and other characters in The Through (2017).
A. Rafael Johnson co-owns TerraLuna Collaborative, a consulting firm based in Minneapolis. He has co-produced Writer’s Resist – Twin Cities and Banned Together. Johnson is currently finishing a collection of short stories called Okahika. He currently teaches at The Minneapolis College of Art and Design, The Loft Literary Center, and the Augsburg University Low-Residency MFA program. He also writes UNOFFICIAL, which helps readers navigate and resist the Trump Administration.
A. Rafael Johnson lives in Minneapolis, where he is often mistaken for Marlon James.