About the work

Ann Arbor: a small city with a big university

A city of cute coffee shops, leftover hippies, hybrid cars, indie bookstores, and craft breweries. A city, above all, that values education.

Or does it?

Jim Harrow has been an Ann Arbor cop for fifteen years. He mostly handles things like stolen cars and fratboy fights, giving him time to coach high school wrestling and help raise his teenage daughters.

But things take a deadly turn the night after the Michigan–Michigan State football game, when a house party ends in a fire. Its single victim is a graduate student with no job, no friends, and no research. What was Sanders Bolgim working on, and why would someone want to kill him for it?

Nothing about the case makes sense, and as Jim traces the events leading to the fire, he uncovers a shady party company, dark money buying for-profit charter schools, and a string of murders stretching back years.

In a town where money and education are always in each other’s pockets, someone is paying a killer to teach the ultimate lesson.

Kass’ debut novel is an astute commentary on the darker side of education reform wrapped in a gripping adventure. Filled with authentic characters, a strong voice, and the perfect portrait of a Midwest college town, Takedown is as sharp and crisp as a football Saturday.

Knuckleheads (Dzanc Books) was named Independent Publisher’s Gold Medal-winning Best Short Fiction collection of 2011. It was also a Finalist for Foreword Reviews Best Short Fiction Collection of 2011 and earned the Sliver Medal for E-Lit’s Best Short Fiction Collection of 2011. Comprised of ten stories, Knuckleheads is populated by wrestlers, ballplayers, comic book worshipers, bench pressers, struggling fathers, husbands, mentors and lovers – all wanting vaguely to be better people than they are. These characters are unsure how to navigate the tricky world of females and unsure how to navigate themselves, but they try; somehow, they keep trying.

Praise for Knuckleheads

“Kass’s remarkable stories are honest, observant, utterly believable with the weight of fable. Poignant and funny, the stories pull the reader into their vortex, where the light is pleasingly bright and disorienting at the same time. Knuckleheads introduces an important writer, one whose work I didn’t know I was so desperate to read.”

– National Book Critic Circle Award Winner Laura Kasischke

“In their quiet, accumulating intensity and sly pockets of humor, beauty and grace, Jeff Kass’ stories recall Ron Carlson and Charles Baxter at their best. Knuckleheads is a knockout!”

– Davy Rothbart

“Howlingly funny, engrossing and culturally observant, these stories unfold effortlessly with ambient ferocity and compassion. By the third paragraph of the first story I knew I’d go anywhere Jeff Kass wanted to take me – with a great sense of amazement.”

– Lewis Robinson

“With the vivid lyrical qualities of Colson Whitehead’s Sag Harbor, Knuckleheads is a high-octane protein shake, equal parts heartbreak and hilarity, a thing of both sweat-seeking adrenaline and nostalgic, time-stopping beauty. For those who know Jeff Kass’ gorilla-hearted poetry, this story collection is both a surprise and no surprise at all. Here we see his swing-for-the-fences skill with the line, but now it’s prose and, jeez, what can’t this man do? Kass achieves what all fiction writers want – he makes us believe and makes us care. Even those of us who stayed as far away from the jocks as possible will want to cheer.”

– Steve Amick

My Beautiful Hook-Nosed Beauty Queen Strut Wave (Dzanc Books) is Kass’ first full-length poetry collection. Comprised of fifty-one highly accessible poems that have been taught in schools and workshops across the country (and in Great Britain), the collection attempts to answer the autobiographical question – how did I get here? How did I get to be this middle-aged husband, father, public school teacher, often confounded (and, equally as often, confounding) person who tries to find hope and beauty wherever he looks?

Praise for My Beautiful Hook-Nosed Beauty Queen Strut Wave

“What is usually lacking in American poetry is the sense that the poet is just a regular dude, someone we might find shooting pool at a bar or playing second base in a public park more dirt than grass. Jeff Kass’s new poems are the poems of many men who grew up in this country bursting at the seams with boyness, who did the bestthey could to grow into useful men – fathers, teachers, plumbers. Line by line, this book unfolds like a well-made movie. Frankly, these poems have enough guts to kick your ass, but there is also tenderness here, that gentleness we tried so hard to hide when we were boys.”

– Tim Seibles, National Book Award Finalist

“My Beautiful Hook-Nosed Beauty Queen Strut Wave, besides winning the all-time award for title you can’t turn away from, is a raucous and unflinching ode to the tender and the quirky, one man’s hurtle verse-first into a life that the rest of us can only hope to live.”

– Patricia Smith, National Book Award Finalist

“After reading My Beautiful Hook-Nosed Beauty Queen Strut Wave, it’s tempting to say that this title tells you all you need to know about the book, but you need to know more. These poems have a good fast crazy running through them – Kass juggles verbal handsaws in a street-corner spectacle of tumbling imagery and hard-earned honesty. With their small aching moments of teenage heartbreak, and their love of strangers and the beautiful strangeness of being human, with their insights into being a teacher and being a parent (two of the most humbling vocations there are), these poems will simply knock the wind out of you.”

– Jim Daniels


Invisible Staircase (Winged City Chapbooks) was the winner of the 2010 Winged City Press Chapbook Contest. A small collection of coming-of-age poems, the title comes from a line about the author, once in his life, jumping high enough to slam-dunk a basketball, but being so surprised at his lofty height, he fails to react quickly enough to do so.

Praise for Invisible Staircase

“Seeing and hearing Jeff Kass is galvanizing in precisely the way poetry is supposed to be galvanizing – surprising, delighting, piquing and always moving us. Through the spoken word, he immerses his audience in the culture and soul of poetry. Powerful.”

– Baron Wormser, former Poet Laureate of the state of Maine

“Jeff Kass hooks us in a choke-grip, takes us on a donut-chewing ride, throws a wrench that turns into a baseball we want to catch. Jeff owns the parking lot of his youth in these poems, and we don’t want to be anyplace else.”

– Chris Lord


From the Front of the Room won the 2010 Teacher’s Voice Chapbook Contest. Comprised of short pieces originally written as blog-posts for the online newspaper AnnArrbor.com, this small collection of personal essays delves into the hour-to-hour experiences of educators and what they do when they face choices of significant moral consequence on a daily basis. Essays from this collection have been used in schools of education across the country.

Praise for From the Front of the Room

“A well-crafted memoir that reads like a long poem in the voice of one who has spent his life on the front lines of teaching, who every day allows his heart to be crushed, broken, bathed and reborn in the stories and experiences of those he is paid to educate. Here are the successes and failures – and everything in between – that make up a life in the classroom.”

– Taylor Mali

“Jeff Kass is a magnificent writer and an inspiring teacher for the same reason: his great big, ever-expanding, open, compassionate heart. This little book is a treasure.”

– Lesléa Newman

“As I finish reading From the Front of the Room, I will remember Kass’ soul-deep care for his students, their stories, their futures. I think I won’t soon forget numbering among them via these pages. And I just wanted to say I feel renewed and blessed to have encountered this writer, this poet, this teacher, and this eye-opening and heart-opening collection.”
– Suzanne Strumpek Shea.


Wrestle the Great Fear is a one-man performance poetry show about teaching that explores how dynamic the relationship between teacher and student can be, how fraught with pre-conceptions, fears and biases. It debuted in Ann Arbor in April of 2009 and has been performed at several schools and universities across the country. In its full performance version it includes ersatz wrestling moves, Major League Baseball highlights, video-poems and original music.

Praise from teachers for Wrestle the Great Fear

“I’m the new drama teacher at Tappan and have been directing theatre and Comedy
Troupe at Pioneer the last two years. So many kids that I have worked with at
Pioneer have talked about you and today I saw what they were raving about. You
were fantastic and inspirational. Many, many teachers were talking about your work today at Tappan. Thank you for a great way to start off the year.”

– Alex Leydenfrost

“Your performance was inspirational, sensational and exceptional! It spoke to messages we as teachers hope to live up to and think about in an energizing, creative format. Thank you!”

– Julie Simpson

“Hi, Jeff! I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed and appreciated your performance at the opening day ceremony today. I have heard absolutely wonderful things about you and was glad to have the opportunity to see your performance first-hand today. Your energy, passion, and dedication were absolutely inspiring to me as both a teacher – and a parent! “

-Carrie Dworkin