University of Iowa

Jeffery Renard Allen

Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Virginia, Jeffery Renard Allen is the author of five books including the novel Song of the Shank, which is loosely based on the life of Blind Tom, a nineteenth century African American piano virtuoso and composer who was the first African American to perform at The White House. The novel was featured as the front-page review of both The New York Times Book Review and The San Francisco Chronicle. It won the CLMP Firecracker Award, was a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award, and was also nominated for the Dublin Literary Prize. Allen’s novel Rails Under My Back won the Chicago Tribune’s Heartland Prize for Fiction, and his short story collection Holding Pattern won The Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence. His other honors include the Chicago Public Library’s 21st Century Award, a Whiting Writers’ Award, and a Guggenheim Fellowship. He was a fellow at New York Public Library’s Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers and a resident at the Bellagio Center. His website is His collection of short stories, Fat Time, will be published in 2019.

Instructor Events

In our workshop, we will look at some effective ways to begin a short story, novel, or personal essay. It is often the case that a single sentence in the opening paragraph of a story contains the seeds of the whole. This is because narrative is a reiterative form where the themes contained in a core sentence are repeated time and again throughout the work. We will see how an effective opening lends importance to other key elements of prose narrative, namely setting, conflict, physical detail (image and symbol), and the ending.