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Arnold Johnston was born in Cambuslang, Scotland, near Glasgow. When he was nearly ten, the Johnston family emigrated to the U.S., settling in Detroit, Michigan. After graduating from Wayne State University, Johnston earned an M.A. and Ph.D. in modern literaturel at the University of Delaware. He returned to Michigan to teach at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo. On the strength of his Scottish background Johnston was asked to present a program on Scotland's "national poet," Robert Burns. (Every Scot is assumed to have at least a passing acquaintance with Burns, if only to the extent of singing "Auld Lang Syne" on New Year's Eve (or Hogmanay or Ne'erday, as Scots call it) and showing up to eat haggis washed down with Scotch whisky at "Burns' Suppers" every January 25 in commemoration of the poet's birth in 1759.) Fortunately, Johnston knew more about Burns than most people, but presenting an entire public program is a bit of a challenge. An able actor and singer, Johnston supplemented his lectures on Burns' by singing some of his many songs and reciting his poems. Johnston was rapidly in high demand for his presentations, which were endorsed by the Michigan Arts Council. Two well-received commercial recordings of Burns' work followed, one for his university and one for a New York firm, CMS Records, Inc. Kalamazoo's New Vic Theatre encouraged Johnston to write a play about Burns.

The Witching Voice met with enthusiastic response from audiences and reviewers alike, and has enjoyed productions and readings around the country. The play was later published in hardcover and paperback editions. The play and Johnston's constant lectures and performances led to the current novel, The Witching Voice (he can't seem to escape the title). Research and writing time were supported by a sabbatical leave from WMU. Johnston writes of The Witching Voice: "My novel is written in the present tense to emphasize what I see as the day-to-day spontaneity of Burns' approach to life. Based on a good deal of research, it doesn't romanticize Burns or idolize him as many of his admirers do, but aims at offering a thorough picture of his gifts, his charms, his demons and his shortcomings in a way that should appeal to a contemporary readership." Johnston is also considered one of the world's best interpreters of the songs of Jacques Brel, and has been selected by Brel's widow as his official English language translator. In 2008, the Ubique Theater Company premiered Johnston's translation of Brel's "Lonsome Losers of the Night." Three revues featuring his Brel translations have been staged in New York, as well as others in Chicago (recognized by four Jefferson Award nominations) and in Kalamazoo. A sampling of Johnston's performances of Brel's songs is available on the CD Jacques Brel: I'm Here! (Western Michigan University). Johnston and his wife, Deborah Ann Percy, have collaborated on translations (with Dona Ro_u) of two long one-acts  "Night of the Passions" and "Sons of Cain"  by Romanian playwright Hristache Popescu, which were published in Bucharest (1999) by Editura HP, as was an English-Romanian edition of his and Percy's full-length play "Rasputin in New York" (with Romanian translation by Dona Ro_u and Luciana Costea). Johnston's poetry, fiction, and non-fiction have appeared widely in literary journals. His books include a collection of poetry, What the Earth Taught Us (March Street Press, 1996), The Witching Voice: A Play About Robert Burns (WMU Press, 1973), and Of Earth and Darkness: The Novels of William Golding (University of Missouri, 1980).

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