P Anna Johnson

Publishing Peace

Colby Magazine, Winter 1989

"Professor Robert Reuman had a profound effect on my outlook on the world in terms of my feelings about war and peace," reflects P. Anna Johnson '60. During the years at Colby, Johnson was involved in the peace movement and the civil rights movement of the late '50s. After graduating with a B.A. in philosophy, she worked with emotionally disturbed blind children at the Boston Center for the Blind and did volunteer work for SANE, an organization for disarmament. By the end of 1961, "There was great concern about nuclear war," she said, and she moved to Australia, which, at the time, was thought to be safe from radioactive fallout in the atmosphere.

In Sydney she studied art and became a studio potter. She was also involved in starting an alternative school that "provided young children with a family-like atmosphere in which they could explore ideas and develop both basic skills and creativity." She returned to the U.S. in 1978 in order to resume her political activism by promoting social change and decided that the way in which she could be most effective would be through publishing.

Open Hand, the company she established in Seattle in 1981, publishes books focusing on African-American issues that "will stimulate thought and help bring about social change." The first book, Self Determination and the African-American People, was written by James Forman, a primary figure in the civil rights movement during the 1960s.

In July 1987 Johnson traveled to Nicaragua to participate in an international book fair. At the end of the fair, publishers from the world over donated their books to Nicaragua's National Library, which had been devastated by an earthquake 20 years earlier and never resurrected. At the fair she was invited to present President Daniel Ortega with Open Hand's bilingual (English/Spanish) children's book The Little Bitty Snake, along with the books of several publishers from the United States.