A poet, actor, director, playwright and teacher, Eva Johnson was born at Daly River in the Northern Territory. A member of the Mulak Mulak people, she is one of the Stolen Generation. As a young child she was forcibly removed from her family and relocated to the Croker Island (Methodist) Mission. She remained there until 1957 when, at the age of 10, she was transferred to an Adelaide orphanage. She became a drama teacher at Worriapindi.
Johnson has been writing for performance since the late 1970s. She began working in theatre in revue style devised productions such as When I Die You'll Stop Laughing (1978) in Adelaide. She wrote her first play in 1979 but the first to be produced was Tjinderella, which was presented at the First National Aboriginal Women's Art Festival and also at the Adelaide Fringe Festival in 1984. In the same year her work Onward to Glory was also presented in Adelaide. Four years later in 1988 her play, Murras, was produced at the Fringe Festival Centre, Adelaide Festival, and later for the Black Theatre Season at Belvoir Street Theatre in Sydney. In 1989 Johnson's Mimini's Voices was produced by Magpie Theatre Company in Adelaide, then the show was restaged in 1990 as part of the Hiroshima Arts festival in Japan. In the same year she performed her monodrama What do they Call Me? at the National lesbian festival in Melbourne, this show subsequently being restaged in Sydney in 1991. The show has toured to Europe and was produced a number of times throughout the 1990s.
What Do They Call Me? is a one woman show performed originally By Johnson herself. The text explores three Stolen Generation stories from one family's point of view, the mother and her two daughters. As one of the Stolen Generation herself, a recurring theme in Johnson's work is the impact on women and children of government policies directed at Indigenous Australians. Johnson has received a number of awards for her work. In 1985 she received the Aboriginal Artist of the Year Award. In 1993, her achievement as a playwright, poet, director, actor and teacher was recognised when she won the Australia Council's inaugural Red Ochre Award. In On the Line published in 1994, Johnson gives an account of her development as a writer: 'I began writing in the late 1970s when Aboriginal people were no longer content to remain invisible'. Johnson writes of her anger at the treatment of Aboriginal people, and how, 'when we were no longer seen as part of the flora and fauna, the first moves began towards constituting a black consciousness, a black social force in this country.' The Land Rights struggle was particularly significant for Johnson, out of the struggle she began to write poems about the land and its living spirits. Initially it was her anger against injustice that was the catalyst for her writing. She notes that: 'Writing became one of the most powerful tools of protest' for Aboriginal people and for Johnson, her writing became her 'partner in the war against injustice. Johnson broke new ground by establishing space for the Indigenous woman's voice within Australian theatre.