Illinois State Library

Illinois Center for the Book

Individual Author Record

General Information

Name:  Jeffrey Renard Allen  

Pen Name: None

Genre: Poetry

Audience: Adult; Adult;

Born: Chicago

-- Jeffrey Renard Allen on WorldCat --

Illinois Connection

* Born in Chicago, Illinois

Biographical and Professional Information


Published Works Expand for more information

Titles At Your Library

Harbors and Spirits
ISBN: 155921208X

Asphodel Press. 1999

Poet, novelist and critic, Jeffery Renard Allen brings a number of characteristics to his first collection of poems. He adapts jazz and blues forms to lyric poetry and uses a variety of cultural sources to draw together materials that exist in a shared mythology. The result has the directness of an African-American Homeric hymn. Rich in musicality, Allen's work offers an extra-ordinary breadth of reference and discovery.

Rails Under My Back (Harvest Book)
ISBN: 0156014157

Mariner Books. 2001

A dazzling family saga that brilliantly reflects the reality of the African-American experience in the United States

Hatch and Jesus Jones are cousins on their fathers' side and on their mothers' side, and you can't have a family much more bound than that. And family is the most important entity for these young men, even when family seems to be defined by abandonment. Rails Under My Back traces these two men from one form of bondage or freedom to another, from one job to another, as they face down danger and try to come to terms with their family's past.

This ambitious novel, which has been hailed by critics 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. It wields extraordinary literary, religious, and historical power, and announces the triumphant debut of a most powerful and utterly original voice.

Rails Under My Back
ISBN: 0374246262

Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 2000

An astonishing debut novel, exploring the bonds, boundaries, and bondage of an African American family.

Rails Under My Back is a daring work of art that reveals its family theme in a stunning depiction of its paradoxically opposite: abandonment.

In this multifaceted, brilliantly colored, intensely musical novel, Jeffery Renard Allen tracks the interwoven lives of two brothers, Lucius and John Jones, who are married to two sisters, Gracie and Sheila McShan. For them, their parents, and their children, life is always full of departures someone is always fleeing town and leaving the remaining family to suffer the often dramatic, sometimes tragic consequences. The multiple effects of the comings and goings are devastating: these are the almost mythic expression of the African American experience during the past half-century.

Rails Under My Back ranges, as the characters do, from the City, which is somewhat like both New York and Chicago, to Memphis, to the West, and to many "inner" and "outer" locales. One image that holds the family together is that of the railroads taking them from place to place-from the South to the North, from their living to their working quarters, from one form of bondage or freedom to another. The McShans and the Joneses somehow prevail, in their bigger-than-life way, and their story has extraordinary literary, religious, and historical power. Allen's voice is unforgettable.


Rails Under My Back

  • Heartland Prize for Fiction, Chicago Tribune
  • Holding Pattern

  • Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence
  • Other Awards

    Speaking Engagements

    Speaking Engagement Availability (Yes)

    Jeffery Renard Allen is represented by the Jodi Solomon Speakers Bureau.