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. Allen is the recipient of a Whiting Writers’ Award, a grant in Innovative Literature from the Creative Capital Foundation, and a Guggenheim Fellowship.
FAT TIME is the powerful new collection from PEN/Faulkner Award finalist Jeffery Renard Allen. Encompassing ten short stories, the collection is loosely linked around African notions of time and place, along with African views of space, cosmology, and metaphysics. The stories are set in invented locations in both Africa and America and play out over a continuum of time. A deeper linkage emerges in the form of a shadow narrative about, on the one hand, destruction in the specific form of violence to the Black body, and on the other, creation and making, namely through the idioms of music and painting.
Allen daringly weaves in elements of both historical fact and the fantastic throughout FAT TIME. “Paraphernalia” relays the surprising results when the daughter of a religious leader convinces the world heavyweight boxing champions to host her sixteenth birthday party at his home. Familiar figures come into focus throughout too: in the title story “Fat Time” (previously published on Granta.com), Allen riffs on the boxer Jack Johnson, while Jimi Hendrix and Francis Bacon play central roles in “Heads” (previously published in the Oxford American). Taken together, these ten stories represent a contemporary master at the top of his craft.
SONG OF THE SHANK
“[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*
*A 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.
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“Imaginative, empathic, brave and beautifully told, these are astonishing and transcendent stories.”
The world of Jeffery Renard Allen’s stunning short story collection, HOLDING PATTERN, is a recognizable city (Chicago), but one in which a young man, jailed for jumping a subway turnstile, might sprout wings, or copper pennies might rain from the skies. Yet these are no fairy tales – Allen’s sensitivity to the realities of African American life is assuredly contemporary. Dazzlingly written, astonishingly inventive and unfailingly entertaining, HOLDING PATTERN is a break-out collection.
In all the stories, Allen calibrates mounting tension with exquisite timing in mesmerizing prose that has won him comparisons with Joyce and Faulkner and The Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence.
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RAILS UNDER MY BACK
“A tour de force.”
*Winner of The Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize for Fiction*
This dazzling novel, which has been hailed nationwide as a rare achievement on the level of fiction by Toni Morrison, James Baldwin, and Richard Wright, is the communal expression of a century of African-American life in America, with its imagery of exodus and exile, departure and destiny. Wielding extraordinary literary, religious, and historical power, it is the triumphant debut of a most powerful and utterly original voice.