Jeffery Renard Allensong-of-the-shank


"The prodigiously talented Jeffery Renard Allen is without question
one of our most important writers." —Junot Diaz



Click on the book covers below to learn more about each title.

song of the shank


holding pattern


rails under my back


stellar places


harbors & spirits
























































































Jeffery Renard Allen is represented by the Jodi Solomon Speakers Bureau. Allen is Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Virginia, is a John Simon Guggenheim Fellow, and was a resident at the Rockefeller Foundation's Bellagio Center in Bellagio, Italy. Recently, he has also taught for Sewanee Writers' Conference, the Iowa Summer Writers' Festival, and the DISQUIET International Literary Program in Portugal.

Allen is the author of two collections of poetry, Stellar Places (Moyer Bell, 2007) and Harbors and Spirits (Moyer Bell, 1999), and two works of fiction, the widely celebrated novel, Rails Under My Back (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2000), which won The Chicago Tribune's Heartland Prize for Fiction, and the story collection Holding Pattern (Graywolf Press, 2008), which won the Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence. His other awards include a Whiting Writer's Award, a support grant from Creative Capital, The Chicago Public Library's Twenty-first Century Award, a Recognition for Pioneering Achievements in Fiction from the African American Literature and Culture Association, the 2003 Charles Angoff award for fiction from The Literary Review, and special citations from the Society for Midlands Authors and the Zora Neale Hurston/Richard Wright Foundation. He has been a fellow at The Dorothy L. and Lewis B. Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers at The New York Public Library, a John Farrar Fellow in Fiction at the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, and a Walter E. Dakins Fellow in Fiction at the Sewanee Writers' Conference.


Studio portrait of Jeff Allen   Postcard for Rails Under My Back

(left) Portrait of the author. Photo credit: Mark Hillringhouse.
(right) Postcard for Rails Under My Back.


His essays, reviews, fiction, and poetry have appeared in numerous publications, including The New York Times Book Review, The Chicago Tribune, Poets & Writers, Triquarterly, Ploughshares, Bomb, Hambone, The Antioch Review, StoryQuarterly, Tin House, African Voices, St. Petersburg Review, African American Review, Callaloo, Arkansas Review, Other Voices, Black Renaissance Noire, and XCP: Cross Cultural Poetics. His work has also appeared in several anthologies, including 110 Stories: New York Writes after September 11, Rainbow Darkness: An Anthology of African American Poetry, Chicago Noir, Homeground: Language for an American Landscape, and Best African American Fiction 2010. Allen has also published stories and essays recently in The Evergreen Review, Lincoln Theater Journal, Fifth Wednesday, The Los Angeles Times Book Review, Book Forum, and for The Center for Fiction website. You can read Allen's essay about the Black Lives Matter movement here:


Jeff Allen accepting The Chicago Tribune's Heartland Prize for Fiction

Accepting The Chicago Tribune's Heartland Prize
for Fiction for
Rails Under My Back, Chicago, 2001.


Born in Chicago, Allen holds a Ph.D. in English (Creative Writing) from the University of Illinois at Chicago and is currently a faculty member in the writing program at the New School. He has taught also in the writing program at Columbia University and for many distinguished writers' conferences and programs around the world, including Cave Canem, the Summer Literary Seminars program in St. Petersburg, Russia, the Kwani? LitFest in Kenya, the Zora Neale Hurston/Richard Wright Foundation, North Country Retreat for Writers of Color, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Farafina Trust Workshop in Lagos, the American Writers Festival in Singapore, and VONA. He is also fiction director for the Norman Mailer Center's Writers Colony in Provincetown, and he served as the Program Director for Literature for the Jahazi Literature and Jazz Festival in Zanzibar, East Africa.


Jeff Allen, Norman Mailer Center's Writers Colony, Provincetown    Jeff Allen, American Writers Festival in Singapore

(left) With Fellows at Norman Mailer Center's Writers Colony 2012.
(right) At the 2012 American Writers Festival in Singapore.


In recent years, Allen has worked with developing writers on the African Continent. In 2006, he taught for the Kwani? Literary festival in Nairobi, Kenya. With fellow author Arthur Flowers, he founded the Pan African Literary Forum (PALF), an international, non-profit literary organization that serves writers and that holds an arts festival and workshops in Zanzibar (The Jambiana Literary Festival) and an international writers’ conference in Accra, Ghana in July 2008.  In August 2012, Allen taught for Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Farafina Trust Workshop in Lagos, Nigeria. That same year, he served as the Program Director for Literature for the Jahazi Literary and Jazz Festival in Zanzibar. Africa is also now at the center of his writing interests.


PALF 2008 Flier    Jeff Allen, Jahazi Festival Postcard

(left) PALF 2008 flyer.
(right) Jahazi Festival Postcard & Poster.


He is presently at work on a memoir-travelogue-meditation that uses his travels about the African continent to frame an exploration of subjects such as place, race, religion, music and culture, identity, and family. Allen is the proud father of two children, Elijah and Jewel, and is happily married to Zawadi Kagoma, who is formerly of Tanzania.

Jeff in Zanzibar

In Zanzibar.

In May 2014, Graywolf Press published his novel Song of the Shank, which is based on the life of Thomas Greene Wiggins, a nineteenth-century African-American piano virtuoso and composer who performed under the stage name Blind Tom. Song of the Shank won the Firecracker Award and was nominated for the Dublin Literary Award (formerly IMPAC).

Song of the Shank book cover and Blind Tom portrait

In October 2015, Graywolf Press republished his novel, Rails Under My Back, in a deluxe edition with an introduction by National Book Award winner and MacArthur Genius Grant recipient Charles Johnson.

In 2019, Graywolf Press will publish Allen's second collection of short stories Fat Time. You can read the title story here:

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