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Shadow Act

An Elegy for Journalist James Foley

100 pages
Mcsweeney's Literary Arts Fund

Longlisted for the 2024 Mass Book Award

Proceeds from the sale of Shadow Act will benefit the James W. Foley Legacy Foundation, advocating for the freedom of all Americans held hostage abroad and promoting the safety of journalists worldwide.

In his second collection—a powerful act of documentary poetics a decade in the making—Johnson chronicles the perils and joys of fatherhood and a shattering tragedy that plays out thousands of miles away. Nearly two years after the poet’s closest friend went missing, journalist James Foley was executed by ISIS in Syria. In this poetic daybook like no other, Johnson often speaks directly to his missing friend—“I don’t know, Jim, where you are,” even long after his death. Page to page, Foley ghosts in and out of the book, as the poet hails the birth of children, recounts hunting for the body of a neighbor’s missing cat, and, later, pores over the hand-written pages that Foley smuggled out of a Libyan prison in his shoe. An educator and poet, Johnson has crafted a vibrant, urgent collection that pulses with the terror and hardship Foley faced, the anguish of those he left behind, and the everlasting friendship between the two men. During a time of great collective trauma and mourning, this heartfelt, formally rich collection tackles the question: “How do you go on living, loving, and creating in the face of unthinkable loss?”

Author Bio

Daniel Johnson published How to Catch a Falling Knife, winner of the Kinereth Gensler Award, in 2010 with Alice James Books. In connection with the book’s release, Johnson performed an illuminated version of the text involving poetry, original music, and the found home movies of William Bradley, a World War II-era Fuller Brush salesman from Davenport, Iowa. Johnson’s poetry has appeared in a variety of journals and anthologies, including Best American Poetry 2007, The Iowa Review, The Boston Review, American Letters & Commentary, and I Have My Own Song for It: Modern Poems of Ohio. He is the founding executive director of 826 Boston, a youth writing center, which is part of the national network founded by writer Dave Eggers and educator Ninive Calegari. He was named the executive director of Mass Poetry in 2018. Johnson lives with his wife and children in Boston.