ALLEN B. BALLARD | professor, author and musician

Acclaim for Allen B. Ballard

Critical Acclaim for Carried by Six

“In Carried By Six, Allen Ballard has created a memorable novel that is a fast paced, page turning story of a black community determined to rid itself of the drug-driven plague of crime and violence….Ballard writes with passion and conviction of the power of ordinary men and women to do extraordinary things when family, friends, and community decide enough is enough. It is a book that entertains , ennobles, and inspires. Bravo Ballard!”
--Darlene Clark Hine, Professor of African American Studies and History, Northwestern University, co-author, The African-American Odyssey.

“Carried By Six is a very well-told story that celebrates the courage of those valiant folks in the inner city who, contrary to the “no snitchin’”code, are determined to fight for neighborhoods where their children can grow up safe and secure from gunfire and random violence. Ballard keeps it real and writes with power and authority. I could hardly put the book down. Neither will you!”
--John Herritage, Staff Inspector (Ret.) New York State Police

“Allen Ballard has done it again! His first novel, Where I’m Bound, was a great epic of the Civil War and this new novel is just as powerful and well-written and will definitely keep the reader engaged. The characters are compelling, ordinary, church-going African-Americans whose faith in God sustains them in their daily struggle to make a decent life for their family, their neighbors, and their communities, This is an uplifting and dramatic piece of writing and I highly recommend it.”
--Lillian Williams, Associate Professor Of African-American Studies, the University of Buffalo.

The following article, featuring Allen Ballard, ran in the Daily Gazette.

Daily Gazette Archives

Ballard Chronicles Black Urban Experience

Author(s): Jack Rightmyer

For The Sunday Gazette Date: January 31, 2010 Section: E

When you think of all that Allen Ballard has been through, it's not surprising that in his late 60s he would challenge himself to begin a career as a fiction writer. "I've always wanted to write fiction," he said, speaking from his home in Clifton Park. "When I was in graduate school back in the 1950s, I wanted to be a fiction writer and combine a work of fiction with an exciting historical time period."

Ballard's life has encompassed an exciting historical period. He grew up in the 1930s in a tough section of Philadelphia and, in the 1950s, was one of the first two African-American students to attend Kenyon College in Ohio, where he graduated magna cum laude and was president of the student body.

His academic resume is impressive, with one year of study at the University of Bordeaux in France, a doctorate in government from Harvard University in 1961, and a career teaching at some of our country's finest academic institutions: Boston University, Dartmouth College and Cornell University.

"In some ways I feel like I've never quite settled down," he said, "and turning to fiction writing goes right along with that. I've always loved reading fiction, especially the great Russian novels. Fiction is a great way to understand historical time periods on a personal level."

In his writing, he chronicles the African-American experience through different periods. His first book of fiction, "Where I'm Bound" (2000), was one of the first novels to address the Civil War from the perspective of black soldiers. His newest book, "Carried by Six" (Seaforth Press, $17.95, 294 pages), is an urban thriller about drugs and violence in a contemporary Philadelphia neighborhood.

Ballard will read from his new book at 7 p.m. Tuesday in Assembly Hall in the Campus Center at the University at Albany's uptown campus. The talk is free, and it kicks off the spring series of events for the New York State Writers Institute.

Raw descriptions

His new book is a raw representation of the violence found in many of today's urban neighborhoods. The story follows Obie Bullock, the leader of an anti-violence group, and his struggles with the neighborhood's drug dealer, Son Teagle. "I wanted to create characters a reader would care about and then put these characters in a dangerous situation."

Ballard said he grew up in a neighborhood with some tough characters, but he was lucky to have friends and family members who loved him and believed in his abilities. "I remember this one rough guy who taught me how to box," he said. "He was drinking one day out in the street and when I came home from college he stopped me and said how proud he was that I was going to college."

That experience, along with a few others, taught Ballard that all characters have redeeming qualities. "Son Teagle is a very bad man," he said, "but I try to show the background where he came from so the reader can get an understanding about why he became so horrible."

Ballard is both encouraged and discouraged about the plight of African-Americans today. "I'm certainly encouraged by the election of President Obama and the number of opportunities available to black people today, but at the same time I'm discouraged about the vast numbers of poor blacks who have been left behind. The contrast has never been greater."

He is also concerned about the rap and hip-hop culture which, he said, tends to be misogynistic as it glamorizes profanity and violence.

"I'm around young people every day," said Ballard, "and many of them talk about why they like this music, but I don't see anything good about it."

Musical influence

Music has always been a major influence in his life. "I grew up in a family that loved to sing," he said. "I've also taught my classes by playing music to represent historical time periods."

He has even compiled a CD of himself playing a guitar and singing songs popularized by Mahalia Jackson and Rev. James Cleveland. He also finished an autobiography -- he'd been working on it for 10 years -- which will be published by SUNY Press next year.

"Writing that autobiography was difficult," he said. "I didn't want to write about one event and then go on to another event. I wanted to delve into what I was thinking and feeling at the time, and that was hard to do. There was some real emotional turmoil I went through during many of those years."

He certainly has enough to write about: his days growing up in Philadelphia, helping to integrate Kenyon College, his army experience, and his study of Russian literature.

In 1959-60, he traveled to Moscow, and even spent a month living on a farm where his host family turned out to be future premier Mikhail Gorbachev and his young wife, Raisa.

"We'd play music, drink wine and argue about politics," said Ballard. "It was a wonderful time."

He believes that we all live through significant historical time periods. "I don't necessarily buy into that 'Greatest Generation' theory," he said. "Time periods force all of us to take a stand sooner or later."

He has now lived in Albany for more than 20 years, working as a professor of history and Africana studies at the University at Albany. "I've always loved this area," said Ballard.

"When I was in college I worked as a cook at Silver Bay and lived up in Lake George all summer. I still get up there every summer, and there's nothing so relaxing as spending some time in nature."

He has enjoyed his long career in academia, and said a good work ethic is essential to being a writer. "Writing fiction is much more difficult than academic writing," he said.

"It didn't come easily to me. I taught myself how to write fiction by reading extensively the biographies of Tolstoy, Flaubert and Virginia Wolff."

He has tried to make his fiction seem believable and realistic. "I'm lucky to work with an editor, Renni Brown, who refuses to even let one sentence go by that doesn't work. She's a stern taskmaster, but she makes my writing so much better."

For more information about the talk, contact the New York State Writers Institute at 442-5620.

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Critical Acclaim for Where I'm Bound

Here’s what the critics say about it:

“A rousing Civil War novel written in clear, strong prose.”
--Washington Post

“What a terrific story!”
--Prof. Nell Painter, Princeton University

“Marvelous and moving.”
--John A. Williams, author

“A powerful and gripping epic about the African-American military experience in the Civil War.”
--Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr.

“A vivid, fast-paced, and poignant novel.”
--The Schenectady Gazette

Chosen as a "Notable Book of the Year" by the Washington Post, 2000.

Selected Works

Breaching Jericho's Walls
“Breaching Jericho’s Walls is a journey-through-life book that takes the reader to interesting and very different (surprisingly so) sites of memory where compelling experiences take place. I couldn’t stop reading.” — Gloria Wade-Gayles, editor of My Soul Is a Witness: African-American Women’s Spirituality
Carried by Six
The leader of an anti-violence group stumbles upon a crime scene, and unknowingly kills the brother of a powerful but imprisoned drug dealer.
Where I'm Bound
"The important story of black soldiers in the Union army has finally found a writer of historical fiction equal to the occasion."
--James M. McPherson, Professor of History, Princeton University
One More Day’s Journey: The Story
of a Family and a People

Chronicles the movement of Blacks from South Carolina to Philadelphia during the Great Migration, 1917-1940.
The Education of Black Folk: The Afro-American Struggle for Knowledge in
White America

A short history of the education of African-Americans in the United States.