Walter Johnson grew up in Columbia, Missouri, and is a member of the Rock Bridge High School Hall of Fame (2006). His prize-winning books, Soul by Soul: Life Inside in the Antebellum Slave Market (1999) and River of Dark Dreams: Slavery and Empire in the Mississippi Valley's Cotton Kingdom (2013), were published by Harvard University Press. His autobiographical essay, “Guns in the Family,” was included the 2019 edition of Best American Essays; it was originally published in the Boston Review, of which Johnson is a contributing editor. The Broken Heart of America: St. Louis and the Violent History of the United States will be published in the spring of 2020. Johnson is a founding member of the Commonwealth Project, which brings together academics, artists, and activists in an effort to imagine, foster, and support revolutionary social change, beginning in St. Louis.