Cynthia Cannell Literary Agency
A full-service literary agency in New York City



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"[A] masterly new novel... the kind of imaginative work only a prodigiously gifted risk-taker could produce."

— New York Times Book Review

A Finalist for the 2015 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction
New York Times Notable Book of the Year in 2014

SONG OF THE SHANK is the powerful new novel from the prodigiously talented author of RAILS UNDER MY BACK (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000). It recounts the obscure history of Thomas Greene Wiggins, a remarkable nineteenth-century African American musical prodigy 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.

Spanning a single year, the novel begins near the end of summer in 1866 on a country estate as seventeen-year-old Tom and his twenty-five-year-old guardian Eliza Bethune make preparations to leave the sanctuary of their cottage for a fashionable city apartment. As the narrative unfolds, they encounter the challenging wider world with its conflicting demands on their relationship and on Tom’s talents. Tom is the heart at the heart of the novel; any character who encounters him is profoundly changed. One and all, they place their hopes in him, project their beliefs and desires on his skin, and stake their futures in his flesh. As the novel moves to its conclusion, a note of possibility emerges while Tom works to find his own voice and his own 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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