200 Years of An American FamilyeBook - 1997
Like a patchwork quilt made from Appalachian family memories, Simple Annals is an American saga that spans two centuries, from Revolutionary times to the present day. Former hillbilly Robert Howard Allen has documented in prose and poetry the folklore and history of his Tennessee clan. More absorbing than any dry recounting of the tragedies and triumphs of the Allen family could be, this unique album-in-words sings of war heroes, farmers, God, graveyards, and violent death; of "hoop snakes" and ghosts; hard times and occasional, fleeting moments of joy and celebration. It chronicles the American Revolution, the Civil War, and Allen's own extraordinary personal leap from backwoods poverty to life as a university professor.
Robert Howard Allen was born in 1949 in rural western Tennessee. Until he entered Bethel College in McKenzie, Tennessee, at the age of 32, he had never gone to school a day in his life. As a 1991 profile of him in Parade magazine stated, up to that point "he had never ridden a bicycle or been inside a movie theater or out on a date." Allen had learned to read in a ramshackle farmhouse where he lived with elderly relatives -- his grandfather, three great-aunts, and a great-uncle. From the age of seven, Allen says, "Books were my great comfort. They were my pastime and my playmates." By his early 20s, he had amassed a library of some 2,000 volumes culled from yard sales and dumps. Abandoned by both parents -- his father divorced his mother before he was born, and his mother, a waitress, ran off with a traveling shoe salesman -- he grew up listening to endless family stories, particularly those told by his blind Aunt Ida, to whom he twice read the Bible, cover to cover.
Out of family legends and traditions, Allen has woven a classic story of Americana.