Toni Ann Johnson is an established writer in both television and film. She will be discussing her first novel, “Remedy for a Broken Angel,” (2014 Nortia Press) as part of Eduardo Santiago’s Idyllwild Authors Series, now in its fifth. “Remedy for a Broken Angel” is the story of a young female photographer trying to deal with the psychological wounds she suffered from her narcissistic mother — a successful Bermudian jazz singer consumed by anger over feeling unloved as a child, an anger she then transfers to her own child. She will talk about the novel, which has received strong reviews, with Santiago at 4 p.m. Sunday, June 7, on the deck of Cafe Aroma.
For fans of the series, Johnson’s appearance would be one not to miss. She is soft-spoken and engaging, and describes her writing and her life cinematically, so that one is easily drawn in. Her accomplishments at a young age could also be the subject of the screenplays of others. Raised in an upper middle class black family, one of the few in Monroe, New York, Johnson fell in love with jazz at an early age. Her father, a psychologist, had offices in Manhattan near Greenwich Village jazz clubs and he often took Toni with him to hear jazz. The family travelled extensively to Europe, Africa and the Middle East. Academically brilliant, Johnson graduated from high school at 16 and attended New York University where she studied screenwriting, graduating at 20. She studied playwriting privately with Charles Fuller and Arthur Kopit. During this time she also worked as a professional actress and member of Actors Equity, SAG and AFTRA. She appeared in two films of Spike Lee and popular television soap operas “All My Children” and “Loving.”
Her play, “Gramercy Park is Closed to the Public,” was staged in New York and caught the attention of literary agent Dave Wirtshafter. That connection led Johnson to move to Los Angeles with screenplay drafts in hand.
After moving to L.A. in 1992, she began writing for studios and networks, including Disney, Warner Brothers, Paramount and Fox. In 1998, Johnson won the Humanitas Prize for her screenplay “Ruby Bridges,” an ABC movie and true story of the young girl who integrated the New Orleans Public School System. She won a second Humanitas Prize for her screenplay for a Showtime movie, “Crown Heights,” that examined a relationship between an African-American teen and a Hasidic Jewish teen that formed after the 1991 Crown Heights riots.
While busy with her film and television career, Johnson had a dream that was the genesis for “Remedy for a Broken Angel.” “It started as a film script, but it was horrible so I left it, but continued to think about the subject matter. I came back to it in 2003, and then worked it until 2006 when I began submitting it. Nothing came of it but the characters remained vital.” Johnson completed a final draft in 2012 and found a publisher in 2013.
“The novel is about forgiving the seemingly unforgivable,” said Johnson of “Remedy for a Broken Angel"’s story of complicated and damaging family relationships, with jazz as tapestry weaving it all together.
Johnson holds a bachelor’s of fine arts in drama from NYU Tisch School of the Arts, a Certificate in Cinema Production from Los Angeles City College and a master’s degree in fine arts in creative writing from Antioch University Los Angeles. She cites Percival Everett as one of her major influences. “What he writes is of particular interest to me, because in addition to being fun to read, he doesn’t limit his writing to the so-called black experience as it’s been defined in our culture. His characters have interests, proclivities and experiences beyond the narrow view that the mainstream promotes in its depiction of black life.”
For more about Johnson, see www.toniannjohnson.com.