Novelist, poet, and biographer, a native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Allen began writing poetry while a student but did not start writing professionally until after his service in World War I, when he was teaching in South Carolina. His biography Israfel: The Life and Times of Edgar Allan Poe was published in 1926. His novel Anthony Adverse (1933) is one of the best-selling historical novels of all time, with nearly 3 million copies in print to date. Allen's works of historical fiction are set all over the world and in eras ranging from the eighteenth through the twentieth centuries. In spite of his use of rich details and historical background, Allen's focus is always on the people in his writing. He is less interested in examining the neuroses of characters than in portraying characters in a romantic, colorful, and exciting way that sweeps the reader along.