Cannell Agency
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Graywolf Press (2014-06-17)
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MS: Final Edited
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by Allen, Jeffery Renard

A contemporary American masterpiece about music, race, an unforgettable man, and an unreal America during the Civil War era.

SONG OF THE SHANK is the powerful new novel from the immensely talented Jeffery Renard Allen. It recounts the obscure history of Thomas Greene Wiggins, a remarkable 19th-century African American musical phenomenon and “idiot savant” who performed under the stage name Blind Tom. Born a slave in Georgia in 1849, Wiggins was one of the first African American classical musicians, a contemporary of virtuosos such as Liszt and Rubinstein.

As the summer of 1866 ends, seventeen-year-old Tom and his young guardian Eliza Bethune prepare to leave the sanctuary of their country cottage for a fashionable city apartment. There, they are presented with the challenges of the wider world, with its conflicting demands on their relationship and on Tom’s talents. The two navigate his journey to fame, beset by variously sinister characters all of whom are profoundly affected by him, placing their hopes in him, projecting their beliefs and desires on his skin, and staking their futures in his flesh. Through all this, a note of possibility emerges as Tom finds his own voice in his music.

Jeffery Renard Allen is the author of five books including the novels SONG OF THE SHANK and RAILS UNDER MY BACK, which won the Chicago Tribune‘s Heartland Prize for Fiction; the short story collection HOLDING PATTERN, which received The Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence; and two collections of poetry. A Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Virginia, Allen is the recipient of a Whiting Writers’ Award, a grant in Innovative Literature from the Creative Capital Foundation, and a Guggenheim Fellowship.

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Allen's elaborate novel unfurls like a tapestry, its minutely detailed tableaux illustrating the vast, unhealed bruise of American racism.

Review: The Boston Globe

Inventive, earthy, lyrical, demanding, rewarding. . . . There are echoes . . . in this potential Great American Novel of past masters Faulkner, Hemingway, Ellison, Melville, John Edgar Wideman, Ishmael Reed.

Review: San Francisco Chronicle

[A] masterly new novel. . . . It sagely explores themes of religion, class, art and genius, and introduces elements of magic realism . . . resulting in the kind of imaginative work only a prodigiously gifted risk-taker could produce.

Review: The New York Times Book Review (front cover)

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.

Review: Kirkus, starred review

Epic and brilliant. . . . [Allen's] unhurried and unconventional novel is a celebration of an utterly unique American artist.

Review: The Los Angeles Times

SONG OF THE SHANK is the Winner of The Community of Literary Magazines an Prsses (CLMP) Firecracker Award 2015, a Pen/Faulkner Award 2015 Finalist, was named as a New York Times Book Review Notable Book of 2014 and is a Longlist Nominee for the Dublin Literary Award 2016

Quote: Cannell

Amid the larger drama of slavery and its injustices, Allen offers the more intimate drama of one young boy’s life and the financial and emotional investments involved in the question of what’s to be done with his exceptional talent. A brilliant book, with echoes of Ralph Ellison and William Faulkner.

Review: Booklist, starred review

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