Jeffery Renard Allensong-of-the-shank


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



Winner of the Firecracker Award

"Masterly.... The kind of imaginative work only a prodigiously gifted risk-taker could produce....
Song of the Shank
brilliantly portrays the story of Blind Tom while providing keen insight into the history of Reconstruction. But at its heart, it also reminds us denizens of never-will-be postracial America of one simple but everlasting essential truth: ‘Them chains is hard on a man. Hard.'"
Mitchell S. Jackson, The New York Times Book Review (front cover)


"Epic and brilliant.... [Allen’s] unhurried and unconventional novel is a celebration of an utterly unique American artist."
Hector Tobar, Los Angeles Times


"Jeffery Renard Allen’s explosive vanguard novel Song of the Shank [is] a chilling orphic drama full of polyrhythmic shakers and shells.... A landmark of modern African-American literature.... Reading through this sagacious volume is like stumbling on a crooked monu-ment covered in celestial carvings, something that aims for the stars and ends up reconfiguring constellations." Atlanta Journal-Constitution


"[A] dense and intelligent new novel.... Its portrayal of Blind Tom himself, the conundrum at its core, is tantalizing and wonderful." The Wall Street Journal


"Spellbinding.... An aesthetically inventive novel that remains rooted in some of America’s deepest historical pain." The Boston Globe


"Phenomenal, difficult, exhilarating, exhausting, glorious, and unforgettable.... A Faulknerian tour-de-force .... Stuffed with gorgeous sentences…. Shank isn't the biography of an early American rock star, but a star-crossed history of race in America." Milwaukee Journal Sentinel


"An eerie fever dream of a historical novel.... [with] echoes of Faulkner and Morrison… [Allen] carries the resources of the poet and the psychic in his trick bag."
—Gene Seymour, Bookforum


"Jeffery Renard Allen’s engrossing and demanding second novel, Song of the Shank, stirs like a modernist dream.... Allen’s prose is wholly his own.... The rewards are stunning."
Star Tribune


"Allen’s elaborate novel unfurls like a tapestry, its minutely detailed tableaux illustrating the vast, unhealed bruise of American racism...."
— Laura Collins-Hughes, The Boston Globe


"Beautiful.... [Allen’s] style is at once dense and spare—his prose poetic and heavily evocative.... He shares with Faulkner a talent for holding a single moment or event and examining it at feverish length."
—Sam Worley, Chicago Tribune





Song of the Shank

song of the shank

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Jun 2014. 584 pp. Paperback. Graywolf Press.


Song of the Shank



 "Inventive, earthy, lyrical, demanding, rewarding.... Allen renders these folk and their chaotic existences with grittiness, inherent sympathy and intuitive grace.... There are echoes, however oblique or not, in this potential Great American Novel of past masters Faulkner, Hemingway, Ellison, Melville, John Edgar Wideman, Ishmael Reed."
—Tom Nolan, San Francisco Chronicle


"Powerfully evokes the life of the 19th-century slave and enigmatic musical savant, Blind Tom." Vanity Fair


"[A] delightful literary gem." Essence


"Together with his book of stories, Holding Pattern, Song of the Shank and Rails Under My Back give us a new Yoknatapawpha that extends in space from the Deep South to the dense North and in time from slave days to hip-hop nights. If Faulkner was the Dixie Limited, Jeffery Renard Allen is an American Express." —Barnes and Noble Review


"Allen treats language in Song of the Shank the way an Impressionist approached paint.... He’s managed to gather the caustic consequences of fame, a mini-history of American race relations, Reconstruction, the solitary interior life of an artist, and a whole lot more, between the covers of a book worthy of any attentive reader’s notice."
—Thane Tierney, BookPage


"Allen’s psychological insight and evocative language vividly bring to life all the black and white people in Tom’s life who, in seeking to understand or exploit Tom’s unholy gifts, are both transformed and transfixed by his inscrutable, resolutely self-contained personality. If there’s any justice, Allen’s visionary work, as startlingly inventive as one of his subject’s performances, should propel him to the front rank of American novelists."
—Kirkus Reviews,
starred review


"Both the conception and the underlying history behind this story will leave readers with a profound understanding of the inhumanity of slavery and 19th century racial attitudes.... [An] admirable book that invites an important excavation of the past."
—Publishers Weekly


"Song of the Shank, for all of its invention, feels like a resurrection of a true past. Jeffrey Renard Allen so fully inhabits this imagined history, and so convincingly renders the charisma and mystery of Blind Tom, the story seems as alive and immediate as this very present moment. With his electric and searing prose, with his uncanny insight, Allen has written a spell-binding, masterful novel."
—Rene Steinke, author of Friendswood


"Allen’s novel is an amazing imagining of another time, place, world."
—Reginald Gibbons


"One of the miracle books. Also a gift for those of us who love reading and writinga gift for those not born yet who will learn much about writing and reading, about themselves from Blind Tom."
—John Edgar Wideman


"Talent and brilliance are not enough. Writing a novel like this is the equivalent of building a three story building. Single handedly. Jeffery Renard Allen scores highly with this novel about the Michael Jackson of the nineteenth century, the savant, Blind Tom." —Ishmael Reed



At the heart of this remarkable novel is Thomas Greene Wiggins, a 19th-century slave and improbable musical genius who performed under the name Blind Tom.

In 1866, Tom and his guardian, Eliza Bethune, struggle to readjust to their fashionable apartment in the City in the aftermath of riots that had driven them away a few years before. But soon a stranger arrives from the mysterious island of Edgemere—inhabited solely by African settlers and black refugees from the war and riots—who intends to reunite Tom with his now-liberated mother.

As the novel ranges from Tom’s boyhood to the heights of his performing career, the inscrutable savant is buffeted by opportunistic teachers and crooked managers, crackpot healers, and militant prophets. In his symphonic novel, Jeffery Renard Allen blends history and fantastical invention to bring to life a radical cipher, a man who profoundly changes all who encounter him.

Blind Tom

Blind Tom.



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