Allan’s most popular creation was “Boysi,” a comical, stereotypical black servant getting his way with his white employers.
Author, journalist. Born in Charleston on November 15, 1899, Allan was the son of James Allan and Maria Heriot. He grew up in the nearby town of Summerville. He entered the Citadel but in his sophomore year joined the military and was assigned to officers’ training camp in Plattsburg, New York, where he was commissioned a second lieutenant in the infantry. He served in various posts, was mustered out in January 1919, and returned to the Citadel, graduating in 1920. He went to work for the H. K. Leiding brokerage and import firm in Charleston, leaving in 1922 to work on a dude ranch in Taos, New Mexico. In his spare time Allan began to write for southwestern newspapers. His first full-time job as a journalist was for the Greenville, South Carolina, Piedmont as a sports writer, followed by stints on the Asheville Citizen and the Atlanta Journal. He gave up journalism for a while to show jumping horses along the eastern seaboard. He and a friend launched Turf and Tanbark, a horse magazine that failed.
Allan joined the staff of the New York Herald Tribune in 1930 and later was one of the journalists who helped launch the features service of the Associated Press. In 1932 he published his first and only novel, Old Manoa, a story of quaint and stereotypical Kentucky characters enmeshed in an improbable plot. He joined the editorial staff of the New Yorker in 1936. For years he had been writing freelance articles on sports and selling short stories to pulp magazines, encouraged by the Charleston writer Octavus Roy Cohen. It was the steady purchase of his works by the Saturday Evening Post that prompted him to try fiction writing full time. He returned to Summerville, living with his mother, summering with her at Pawleys Island. Several of his stories of poor white, quaint, colorful, and ignorant “swampers,” some of them showing their comic attempts to survive in a changing South, were collected in a volume of linked tales, Little Sorrowful (1946). The book carried an opening essay by Allan’s mother and one swamp tale was sold to a film company.
Allan’s most popular creation, however, was “Boysi,” a comical, stereotypical black servant getting his way with his white employers. He based the character on family servants and wrote the stories, he said, to counter the image of the Negro current in some southern writing. The stories were immensely popular for a time, and a collection of them appeared in 1946 as Boysi Himself. Allan’s works were light, mildly amusing, and comforting to those who liked to see no change in the status quo. However, they fell quickly out of favor and out of print.
An ardent sportsman and foxhunter, Allan committed suicide on July 23, 1955. He was buried in Summerville’s St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.
“Glenn Allan, Author, Found Fatally Shot.” Charleston News and Courier, July 24, 1955, p. A11.
“Glenn Allan Is Buried at Summerville.” Charleston Evening Post, July 25, 1955, p. A2.
Jones, Katherine M., and Mary Verner Schlaefer. South Carolina in the Short Story. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1952.
Tobias, Rowena Wilson. “Summerville Writer Finds South’s Present Better Copy than Its Past, Would Keep ‘Honest.’” Charleston News and Courier, April 7, 1940, p. 3–iii.