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Song of the Shank

A Novel
Jeffery Renard Allen
At the heart of this remarkable novel is Thomas Greene Wiggins, a nineteenth-century slave and improbable musical genius who performed under the name Blind Tom.

Song of the Shank opens in 1866 as Tom and his guardian, Eliza Bethune, struggle to adjust 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.

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

About the Author

Jeffery Renard Allen
Credit: Mark Hillringhouse
Jeffery Renard Allen is the author of the novels Song of the Shank and Rails Under My Back, the story collection Holding Pattern, and two collections of poetry.  He was born and raised in Chicago and now lives in New York City, where he teaches at Queens College and in the Writing Program at the New School.
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  • "[A] masterly new novel. . . . [Song of the Shank is] the kind of imaginative work only a prodigiously gifted risk-taker could produce."The New York Times Book Review (front cover)
  • “[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
  • “Epic and brilliant. . . . [Allen’s] unhurried and unconventional novel is a celebration of an utterly unique American artist.”Los Angeles Times
  • “There are echoes . . . in this potential Great American Novel of past masters Faulkner, Hemingway, Ellison, Melville, John Edgar Wideman, Ishmael Reed.”San Francisco Chronicle
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