Brian Johnstone is a poet and writer, who was born in Edinburgh in 1950, but who has lived in Fife since 1972. A well known figure on the Scottish poetry scene, he is a widely published poet, a prose writer, a literary event organiser of broad experience, a frequent collaborator with visual artists and a live performer of his poems both as a solo reader and with various musical collaborators.
First published as a student in the late 1960s, he gave his first public reading at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe poetry sessions in the Traverse Theatre aged only 18. However, a subsequent 22 year career as a primary school teacher intruded on his creative development and he only seriously returned to writing in the early 1990s.
Since then, as well as achieving a notable publishing record with three full collections, three poetry pamphlets and a chapbook to his name, he has given readings and performances both at home and internationally, has collaborated with a variety of artists and musicians, has fulfilled a number of literary commissions and has founded and developed several long-standing literary events. Recently he has also ventured into prose, with his memoir Double Exposure being published by Saraband in 2017. His pamphlet of poems, Juke Box Jeopardy, which also includes four new prose pieces, was published by Red Squirrel Press in 2018 and shortlisted for the Callum MacDonald Memorial Award in 2019.
The poetry of Brian Johnstone has been published extensively across Scotland, in the rest of the UK, in Ireland, and in over 20 countries worldwide. He has given readings at numerous literary venues in Scotland, and at poetry festivals and other locations in England, around Europe and in Central and North America. His work has been translated into over a dozen European languages. His poetry appears on the UK Poetry Archive website and is on permanent exhibition on the Corbenic Poetry Path in Perthshire.
As well as being a live solo performer of his poetry, Brian Johnstone is the poet/reader with Trio Verso, also featuring Richard Ingham (saxes, bass clarinet) and Louise Major (bass). Performing poetry & jazz improv since 2007, the trio has appeared at festivals and literary venues across Scotland, making its first appearance in England in 2011 at the Ted Hughes Festival. Their CD Storm Chaser appeared in 2010.
Previous to this his musical collaborators have included clarsach player Wendy Stewart with whom he performed extensively in the 90s, appearing at Celtic Connections, the Edinburgh International Book Festival and on BBC Radio Scotland, and jazz saxophonist Ben Bryden with whom he has performed at various events in New York.
Brian Johnstone has also worked with composers Rebecca Rowe, with whom he was commissioned by Cappella Nova to create Elegy for Colum Cille, premiered in London in 2000, and Richard Ingham who arranged his poem sequence Robinson for 20 piece jazz orchestra, soloists and narrators, premiered at the On The Rocks festival in 2011 and subsequently performed at the Byre Theatre, St Andrews and the Wigton Book Festival.
The recipient of a Scottish Arts Council Writer’s Bursary in 1998, Brian Johnstone has also received a number of Development Awards from both the SAC and Creative Scotland. In 2015 he was shortlisted for Creative Scotland's Gavin Wallace Fellowship. A prizewinner in the National Poetry Competition in 2000, he has won several other competitions, including the Writers’ Bureau Prize, the Mallard Prize and Poetry at the Fringe during the Edinburgh Festival.
In 1991 he was a founder of Edinburgh’s Shore Poets and, throughout the 90s, ran the Cave Readings series for the Pittenweem Arts Festival. From 1998-2003 he taught creative writing in poetry for The University of St Andrews Centre for Continuing Education and from 1998-2000 for the Open College of the Arts. A founder in 1998 of StAnza: Scotland’s International Poetry Festival, he was Festival Director from 2000-2010, and remained on the staff as Festival Consultant until 2013. In 2014 he was appointed an Honorary President of StAnza. In 2019 he became one of the organising group of Platform Sessions, the bimonthly poetry & music events at the Off the Rails Arthouse in Ladybank.
Over the years Brian Johnstone has organized poetry events for the Words Out! Festival, Perth, for Visual Arts Scotland and for the American literary tour group, Book Adventures. He has been a frequent events chair for the Edinburgh International Book Festival and has judged poetry competitions including the Wigtown Book Festival International Poetry Prize and the William Soutar Writing Prize as well as serving on the panel for the Scottish Book Trust's New Writers' Awards.
Since 1972 he has been married to the print maker and artist's book maker Jean Johnstone. They live and work in a cottage in the Fife countryside near the village of Largoward.