Allison Engel has been a reporter for the Des Moines Tribune, San Jose Mercury, and Pacific News Service, a columnist for Saveur and Renovation Style magazines, and a Knight Journalism Fellow at Stanford University. She has worked for the University of Southern California since 2006 in various positions, including director of communications, senior editor of the alumni magazine, editor of the weekly USC Chronicle, media representative and associate director of the Los Angeles Institute for the Humanities at USC, where she remains a fellow. She holds a master’s in screenwriting from USC.
Earlier, living in Iowa, she was active in the Des Moines Playhouse, serving as president and head of play selection, and was a speechwriter and aide in the Office of the Governor and Lt. Governor in the Vilsack-Pederson administration.
She wrote three editions of Food Finds: America’s Best Local Foods and the People Who Produce Them for HarperCollins with her twin sister, Margaret Engel, and helped turn the book into a show for Food Network, where it ran for seven years.
In 2010, she and Margaret wrote the play Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins. It had its world premiere at Philadelphia Theatre Company, with Kathleen Turner in the title role, where it broke the theatre’s box office record. The play went on to break various box office records at Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles, the Zach Theatre in Austin, Texas, Berkeley Rep, and others. The play is still being produced regularly and has had more than 50 productions around the country. Red Hot Patriot was published by Samuel French. In 2020, the Engels compiled a book for Great Texas Line Press, Molly Ivins: She DID Say That.
The Engels’ second play, Erma Bombeck: At Wit’s End, had its world premiere at Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., in 2015, with Broadway veteran David Esbjornson directing. It has been produced regularly since, with more than 60 productions across the country and Canada, including several streaming versions during the pandemic. It also was published by Samuel French.
The Engels wrote a radio play, The Cat Lady Christmas, that was published by Art Age, and Allison wrote the short play Meet Steve King’s Ancestors! that was used in the 2018 election campaign against King.
Most recently, the Engels and Reise Moore wrote and produced ThriftStyle: The Ultimate Bargain Shopper’s Guide to Smart Fashion (Charlesbridge), a Library Journal starred book. They have collaborated with Hollywood costume designers and Goodwill of Southern California to turn it into a reality TV show, and still have hopes for that.
She is currently working with photographer Noé Montes on a project involving Los Angeles storefronts, the city’s itinerant sign painters, and the nation’s last remaining sign-painting school.