Publication Date:  July 1, 2020
Paperback, 88 pages
ISBN:  978-1-937968-69-4

Booksellers:  Available from
Small Press Distribution

$20.00 retail, or
when you order directly from
Broadstone Books, below
Allen Stein was born in the Bronx and has
taught American Literature at North Carolina
State University since 1968. His numerous
essays on American writers have appeared in
such journals as
American Literature,
American Literary Realism, and Modern
Language Quarterly
. He has also published
books on the short fiction of Kate Chopin
and on the portrayal of marriage in the works
of American Literary Realists. His poems
and stories have appeared in
The Hudson
, Poet Lore, Salmagundi, and Willow
, among other literary magazines, and
his first poetry collection,
Your Funeral is
Very Important to Us
, appeared in 2019.
If you paid attention during your high school and college American lit classes, and
especially if you actually
read the books that you were assigned (and found out you
liked them!), then chances are you sometimes wondered what happened to your
favorite characters after the book ended, or how the story might have looked from the
perspective of other characters. Allen Stein has done more than wonder. Drawing on
half a century’s professional immersion in the classics of American literature, he has
written poems that explore, expand, invert, and interrogate the works and lives of
some of our best known authors, from Hawthorne, Melville, and Twain, through
Whitman, Chopin, and Wharton among many others. We encounter Hester Prynne,
who after “too long” settlement in England and despite the domesticity of her now-
grown daughter and “Pearl’s cheery English husband, / her doughty grandson’s rosy
English cheek,” longs to “step ashore at her only true home, / take up her letter and
her name, /…telling women of wondrous voyages / awaiting them….”  We are
present at Poe’s end, and at Bartelby’s.  We accompany Henry James on a stroll
through New York’s immigrant Lower East Side. There is a grim account of Twain
attending his own father’s autopsy, and also a hilarious parody of academic
pretension in the style of Whitman.

Most powerfully and poignantly, Stein envisions “James Watson, Former Slave” at
the funeral of Huck Finn, reflecting on how in order to gain his freedom, he had
“played the darky for him,” “trotted out the hairball and the horse-ass hocus pocus,”
apologizing to his dead comrade “for pretending to be less than I was / and playing
him like I did.” We learn that Jim went on to be “a supply sergeant in Abe Lincoln’s
army,” married with a shop selling clothes in Chicago, “still mad about so much, / and
always will be,” but recognizing that “the best moments of a bad time / were those I
shared with him on the raft, / when, both of us on the run, / we watched the sun ease
its way / soft through the mists over the river.” Through this compelling reinvention
of one of the most vexing and controversial characters in American literature, Stein
(ever the educator) instructs us that we must not merely venerate and perpetuate the
literary canon, but must challenge it – as with our troubled national history – in order
to arrive at a similar place of harmony. These are, he tells us,
unsettled subjects, with
much work remaining to be done.

This is a book for readers who love books, a form of poetic “fan fiction” for those
who do not want the story to end, no matter where it may take us.

Praise for Allen Stein & Unsettled Subjects

“There is reality, and then there is a second reality,” wrote André Gide. Through his
powerful poetic imagination, Allen Stein offers here a “second reality,” that is, the
stories before, after, and at the edge of familiar literary figures and their works. As he
“seconds” brilliantly, and mercilessly, both vital and destructive drives visible in their
lives and their characters, they acquire added dimensions; indeed, they live anew for
                     —Catharine Savage Brosman, Professor Emerita, Tulane University,
                             author of
Range of Light and A Memory of Manaus

As only the best books are, Allen Stein’s Unsettled Subjects is an unsettling read, one
that compels us to look back with new eyes on works by Hawthorne, Cooper,
Melville, Poe, Emerson, Thoreau, Dickinson, Whitman, Twain, James, Crane, Chopin,
and Wharton. Stein wears his impressive erudition lightly, responding to these classic
works with an artistic grace of the highest order. He has set himself a daunting
challenge—and he has succeeded brilliantly. Readers will never recall these canonical
writers without hearing echoes from Stein’s marvelously nuanced and inventive
                     —Timothy McBride, author of
The Manageable Cold

Those who love writers and the literature they create may often wonder what more
could be known about the lives of authors even beyond all that the fullest biographies
tell us, what these authors’ family members – a wife, a child, a brother – may have
really thought of them and their works, and what might have happened to the
characters in their novels, stories, and poems before, after, or beyond what the
authors chose to tell us in the texts. In
Unsettled Subjects, Allen Stein, both scholar
and poet, takes the reader on a journey through American literature from Nathaniel
and Sophia Hawthorne through Edgar Allan and Virginia Poe, Emerson, Thoreau,
Melville, Whitman, Twain, and more, to Edith Wharton. Stein lets the authors, their
characters, and their family members have their say in a sequence of new combina-
tions and elaborations. In so doing, Stein creates for them richer lives, lives still rooted
in but flowering now beyond what we knew of them before. In these finely wrought
poems, Stein adds something new – gives new lives – to major classic writers and
works in American literature, the “unsettled subjects” of his title, whose stories are
still being told. As Stein says of Emily Dickinson, “she knew no true journey was ever
finished, / knew all was ever in tenuous balance, / endless tension.” This collection
creates, in every sense, a New World. It is the work of a master poet.

                     —David Middleton, Poet in Residence Emeritus,
                             Nicholls State University, Thibodaux, Louisiana
New Poems on Classic
American Literaure

Allen Stein