Artist Projects

Song of the Shank

Jeffery Allen

Song of the Shank is a novel based on the life of fabled 19th-century African American pianist and singer Blind Tom. An innovator who used his instrument beyond its inventors’ intentions, Blind Tom embodied the contradictions faced by many African American artists throughout history. By some accounts the highest paid musician of his time, he was also often exploited by club owners and managers with whom he worked. Song of the Shank is written in a style that mimics music improvisation, shifting often among character, narration, past tense and present tense. Within the novel, Blind Tom’s lack of vision becomes a metaphor for both the writer and reader’s inability to hear him play, as he was never captured on recording.

Project Updates

  • 2014: On June 27, Song of the Shank reached the top of the Editor’s Choice list at the New York Times 

  • 2014: Song of the Shank has a front-page review in the New York Times Sunday Book Review

  • 2014: Song of the Shank is published by Graywolf Press

  • 2011: Allen completes final edits on Song of the Shank, which is slated for publication by Graywolf Press in 2014