But Never a Lovely So Real

The son of a down-on-his-luck worker and the grandson of a religious zealot-turned-conman, Nelson Algren was a kind of loser that America couldn’t fully accept.

Even though he had the chance to get wealth, leisure, and the admiration of his peers, he went his own way and made his living as a writer for 40 years.

This decision was based on his character as much as rational choice, and the cost was great for him

. The US has historically been able to understand those who are unsuccessful or cannot seem to pull ahead, but when it comes to someone who had the potential to be successful but opted not to do whatever it takes, the nation is at a loss.

Nelson Algren wrote eleven books in his lifetime, ranging from amateurish and overwritten to brilliant, bitter, and unfocused.

He held the belief that writing could only be considered literature if it were meant to confront authority. Despite Hollywood, the FBI, Senator Joseph McCarthy, and his own inner doubts, Algren never compromised his position.

As a result, when he died in a Long Island rental, alone in the bathroom, all of his books were out of print. At his funeral, attended by a few friends and one fan, Joe Pintauro read seven lines of Algren’s poetry as the pressboard coffin was laid to rest. [1]


The time arrives when the cabs turn back


Soon trolley-buses will begin their runs


Snow appears in a veil of fog


From prisons, barracks, cells and low-cost lodgings


All those who never had a choice


Return, hands outstretched to demand


That which was never theirs to take [2]


Nelson Algren Abraham was born in Detroit in 1909, to Gersom Abraham, an employee of the Packard plant, who had left his family’s Indiana farm with some regret.

Gersom was a simple, uneducated man who had a penchant for taking out his frustrations on his superiors without warning or explanation

. At one point, he opened a garage and was running it so ineffectively that his son, Nelson, thought it necessary to suggest that he increase the price of parts he sold. Gersom refused to do this, and eventually lost all his possessions through foreclosure or repossession.

In 1913, Algren’s family relocated to a Protestant locale in the South Side of Chicago, and he experienced an idyllic childhood filled with activities such as delivering Abendpost with his pushcart, and collecting corks and bottles for pocket money.

His fascination with the White Sox, especially Swede Risberg, who had a similar pigeon-toed gait as Algren, prompted him to start calling himself “Swede.

” Eight years later, the family moved to the Near Northwest Side, and the twelve-year-old Algren started to hang around in the nearby pool hall.

He eventually made it to the Hunting House Dancing Academy, owned by some of Capone’s goons, and learned to gamble, and he watched as the police accepted bribes. By the time he was seventeen, Algren had left his childhood friends behind and was exploring the prohibitions of Chicago, knocking on secret speakeasy doors and uttering the words “Joe sent me.” [3]

In the fall of 1927, Algren enrolled at the University of Illinois, Urbana. His parents were unable to financially contribute, but his older sister Bernice, who had gained some wealth through marriage, was willing and able to pay for his college tuition.

To cover the cost of living, Algren worked for the university, hustled pool and was a pinsetter at a bowling alley. He later reported that he spent his extra time in Chicago’s poorer areas, and never mingled with others on campus

. During his sophomore year, Algren aspired to be a sociologist, but eventually settled for journalism due to the fees associated with obtaining a Master’s degree.

After graduating, Algren was intent on finding success in writing journalism that was well-informed and sociologically based.

Despite the difficult economic climate of 1931, Algren was hopeful of finding employment.

He managed to borrow the money needed for an interview suit, passed a test given by the Illinois Press Association to qualify as a reporter or editor and set out hitchhiking through the Midwest with a card declaring he was a newspaper man.

He settled in Minneapolis, living in a brothel followed by the YMCA, and wrote headlines for the Minneapolis Journal.

After a few weeks of work he was informed there would be no payment for his efforts, as the paper had merely been offering him the opportunity to gain experience.

Disillusioned and with no money, he returned to the home his parents had mortgaged in Chicago. He was dispirited and aimless, so when urged by his family to find a job, he went south.

The summer of that year saw a large number of hobos riding the rails in search of employment, one of which had donned a suit bought with a loan. Algren had been under the impression he might be able to find a job with a paper, and so he applied to every one he encountered as he traveled through Illinois, along the Mississippi and in east Texas.

His road eventually ended in New Orleans, where he was forced to sleep in parks, alleys and under the stars, and had to sustain himself on free coffee from a mission and bananas.

At the end of summer, Algren had submitted and pawned his suitcase, but held onto his suit, which might have been the thing that appealed to the Luthers.

This duo of con-artists shared an alias and were in need of a naive individual they could take advantage of. One of them had a steel plate in his head, a remnant of World War I, while the other was a Floridian with a tendency of searching for ways to become rich quickly, but lacked any work ethic.

Algren encountered them while he was attempting to make a commission from door-to-door sales, but hardly ever earned enough money for food. He was youthful, attractive, and impoverished enough to demean himself: the perfect target for the Luthers.

In 1951, Art Shay captured Nelson Algren at the Division Street Y in a photograph. This image is courtesy of the artist.

After distributing counterfeit certificates for free hairstyling, with some remuneration, to each New Orleans housewife who responded to the knock, one of the Luthers was beaten by a group of irate husbands.

The trio then fled to the Rio Grande Valley, where they labored for seventy-five cents a shift picking fruit. It was at this point that the steel-headed Luther re-emerged with a pistol, insisting that they rob a supermarket called the Jitney Jungle.

Algren and the Florida Luther quickly ran off, only to stop in Harlingen, Texas, where Luther talked a Sinclair agent into leasing them an abandoned gasoline station on an unpopular road.

Algren then signed the papers, took ownership of the station, and bought fuel with money from a friend in Chicago.

To augment their income, Algren shucked and canned black-eyed peas, which he had acquired on credit from local farmers.

Luther then vanished, reappearing only long enough to siphon gas and then leave Algren to answer to the farmers and Sinclair for their unpaid debts; he was nearly destitute.

In 1955, Algren articulated to the Paris Review that “being a writer was the only option left to him” when he arrived in Harlingen.

At the time, he was destitute, alone, and had just been taken for a ride. Subsequently, he was apprehended for vagrancy in El Paso, but was able to make his escape from the jail cell via the unlocked door.

On his journey back to Chicago, having nothing to show but some disgruntled letters and a newfound resolve to write, Algren had forsaken his middle-class values.

He had seen the injustices that occurred in the cities, towns and shantytowns he’d visited, and felt the most injustice was done in the name of authority – train jumpers beaten and locked up for being down on their luck.

From then on, no matter his level of fame, Algren always sided with the least fortunate in society.

In 1953, he famously wrote: “If you accept the way things are, you won’t rob anyone in the alley no matter how desperate you become. You won’t write anything that will be read more than once either.”

In Chicago, Algren stayed with his folks and surrounded himself with a group of young authors.

He had a long line of rejection letters before a colleague and fellow author, Larry Lipton, recommended that he convert one of his Texas letters into a short story.

The outcome, “So Help Me,” is an adaptation of Luther’s plan to loot the Jitney Jungle that leads to the death of Algren’s imaginary equivalent.

This was accepted by Story magazine at the same time that Algren joined the Chicago part of the John Reed Club, which was a part of a national network linked to the Communist Party.

Richard Wright, who was likewise a part of this club, and Algren became good friends; six years later, Algren gave Wright the title for his best-known book, Native Son.

In late 1933, Algren was sent a query from Vanguard Press inquiring if he was writing a novel. Unable to contain his enthusiasm, he hitched a ride to New York City and introduced himself to James Henle, the publishing house’s president. At 24, he saw himself as a valuable asset and asked to be paid what he believed was a competitive fee.

He believed $100 would be enough to cover his expenses to return to Texas, in addition to food, tobacco, and alcohol for a four-month period, during which he would complete a book. Henle readily agreed to his terms.

Leaving from New York City, Algren journeyed south, observing the people he was hoboing with. As his freight train made its way to Alpine, Texas, he had the protagonist for his first novel in mind.

He wrote mostly on the Sul Ross State Teachers College campus, having gained access by presenting his Vanguard Press commission letter to the school president.

He wrote at a breakneck speed for four months, entertaining students on occasion. As part of his story took place in Chicago, he then returned home. During the trip, he spent a few weeks in jail, and came close to dying while stuck in a refrigerated train car. [4]

The outcome of Algren’s journeys, imprisonment, and return to Chicago’s radical literary society was a mediocre polemical book.

Somebody in Boots had two of its four parts initiated with quotes from the Communist Manifesto.

The protagonist, Cass McKay, a small-time wrongdoer who only wishes for a tattoo and the affection of Norah, encounters or sees maltreatment and misuse so extreme that it replaces the plot.

In the introduction to the paperback reprint of Somebody, which was issued thirty years after the first edition, Algren himself assessed the novel as “an uneven work written by an uneven man in the most uneven of American times.”

When Algren tried to make a success of his book Somebody in Boots, he was unsuccessful as only 762 copies were sold a year later.

With no other job prospects, he was in despair and chose to attempt suicide by inhaling methane in the home of a forgotten girlfriend.

Luckily, he was found in time by Larry Lipton and Richard Wright, who nursed him back to health and had him committed to a hospital. Once discharged to his parent’s home, he spent the remainder of his life denying his suicide attempt.

In the seven years between the release of his first book and his second, Algren had developed his personality of being determined, amusing, devoted, gifted, belligerent, and inconstant until he passed away.

He encountered a woman called Amanda Kontowicz at a gathering organized by Richard Wright, and afterwards they started to live together in a state of destitution. Algren stole meals for them to eat and on many occasions, their only sustenance was milk, potatoes, and onions. [5]

When she could, Amanda sought employment as a housekeeper. Algren, on the other hand, took on a job in a warehouse, followed by a position at a health club where he washed off the patrons after their workout

. During this time, Algren befriended a variety of people, from literary figures to gamblers, criminals, and those who were in the same disadvantaged economic position.

Eventually, Wright helped Algren secure a job with the Works Progress Administration, and he started out as a writer and eventually became an editor.

After hours, he and his friends, including Studs Terkel and Howard Rushmore, went bowling, drank, and socialized with a group of lawbreakers who called themselves the Fallonites.

Algren and his friend Jack Conroy co-founded a literary periodical known as New Anvil and published poetry in Esquire.

Additionally, they managed to get a few of Algren’s short stories out there.

Consequently, in order to have more time to write, Algren formed an excuse to leave Amanda in 1939.

By 1940, he had left and was living in an apartment without a phone, near the center of Chicago’s Polish triangle. Inspired by Richard Wright’s triumph with Native Son , he had started a new book.

When he was not writing, he enjoyed playing cards in backroom games, conversing with the people living in transient hotels near South State Street, and visiting the psychiatric institution in Lincoln.

That year marked the beginning of an era during which Algren wrote some of his best works. He put out five books in a row: Never Come Morning , The Neon Wilderness , The Man with the Golden Arm , Chicago: City on the Make , and Nonconformity.

In each of them he argued that it is the obligation of an artist to oppose authority.

This concept was something he consistently held to for the entirety of his life.

His main point was expressed as: “The hard necessity of bringing the judge on the bench down into the dock has been the peculiar responsibility of the writer in all ages of man.”

He refused to accept that the poor were simply victims; rather, he thought that sometimes they were guilty, and sometimes innocent, but either way their viewpoint deserved to be taken into account.

Algren’s publisher was not thrilled with his pace, yet he still took his time writing Never Come Morning.

This book was his salvation, and he wanted it to be perfect. This was driven both by an artistic motivation and the unfortunate deaths of his sister and father before his due date. He finished up the manuscript in 1941 and it was released to the public in the following year.

The morning sun illuminates the inhabitants of the Polish triangle in Chicago, characters who are hard to categorize. Bruno “Lefty” Bicek and Steffi Rostenkowski are the protagonists of the book and they are both young and poor.

Steffi has been forced to take on many duties following her father’s death, thus hiding her indolence. Bruno is a sandlot baseball player and sometimes-boxer who lives with his widowed mother and wants fame. He is a tough guy, but his own self-image is never secure.


Bruno Bicek of Potomac Street was quite the debater; he’d engage in any kind of discussion with anyone, day or night, and always feel he’d emerged the victor. During the day, he’d even go as far as to argue against himself.


However, when nighttime came and he was by himself, he’d no longer dispute or deny anything. In the darkness, he saw himself as plainly as a wolf’s head in a vacant window.


That was the problem with being in the light of day.


Despite his tough-guy persona, Lefty is a real coward when it matters. One night, Bicek and his gang follow him and his lover, Steffi, to a shed where the two were going to have relations.

The group waits outside while Bruno and Steffi drink and make love, but afterwards they scheme to rape Steffi.

Bicek tries to stop them, then starts to beg, eventually offering the leader of the gang, Kodadek, a better spot on their baseball team the next season. Kodadek chuckled and said, “Next summer we’ll both be dead,” and that was the end of that.

Rather than risk the respect of his friends by admitting his love for Steffi, Bicek abandons her and leaves the scene, coming back drunk. While Steffi was being attacked, he noticed a Greek stranger and in a fit of rage, he beats him to death because he didn’t know what else to do and was too afraid to fight him or protect her.

Bicek is a complex protagonist compared to those in Algren’s previous work and reveals his shift of focus on bearing witness rather than protest.

In Somebody in Boots, the world was black-and-white with characters serving as a device to illustrate Algren’s thesis.

In Never Come Morning, however, the setting is depicted with a multitude of shades of grey and the characters are portrayed as indignant and deprived, governed by laws that are difficult to follow.

None of them are innocent, victimizing not only each other but also the outside world. The reader may feel empathy or terror towards them, but they elude pity, victimization, or bland characterizations.

The New York Times praised Algren’s Never Come Morning as a “brilliant and unusual book,” and Malcolm Cowley suggested that he could be seen as the successor to Carl Sandburg, being “a poet of the Chicago slums.” This book was Algren’s long overdue recognition.

Morning was printed again and again, and Algren was now known; however, he was unable to rely on his writing to support himself and became penniless shortly after.

That summer, he was in East St. Louis with the Fallonites and attempting to work as a welder, although he had no experience.

He then returned to Chicago to join the Venereal Disease Control Project wherein he and Jack Conroy searched for individuals with syphilis in brothels and transient hotels.

Algren took notes and also wrote reviews for Poetry and the Chicago Sun-Times to make more money.

When Algren and Amanda reconciled, he was soon drafted into World War II.

The FBI had been observing him for two years at the request of J. Edgar Hoover, as he was suspected of being a leftist agitator. During the war, he was limited to the role of a litter-bearer.

He returned to Chicago in 1945, renting a two-room flat for a modest price, and started writing. A publisher offered him sixty dollars a week to produce a compilation of stories and a war novel, which was likely due to the success of his novel Never Come Morning.

The Neon Wilderness, a collection of short stories, was released in 1947 to both positive sales and acclaim; its reputation would only strengthen over time. In 1953, Maxwell Geismar declared it “possibly one of the finest we had in the 1940s.” Tom Carson, in his introduction to the 1986 edition, asserted that this was the work that established Algren as “unique among literary figures of his era.”

Algren’s second success made him into a noteworthy individual. He was interviewed on television by Jack Conroy, and the Friends of Literature sought him out.

His repute was so great that when Simone de Beauvoir visited that year, he was given her number and told to call.

This was the first time he was in demand, paid well, and sure of himself enough to compose his most noteworthy work, The Man with the Golden Arm

. Throughout 1947 and 1948, Algren worked from his Wabansia flat and divided his free time similarly as he always had.

Nights were spent with a group of morphine addicts and going to jazz clubs, while days were spent with the intellectual set, sometimes giving speeches criticizing the Taft-Hartley Act, McCarthy’s House Un-American Activities Committee, and the blacklisting in Hollywood.

Golden Arm, released to the public in September of 1949, begins slowly, introducing its players one by one. Frankie Machine, a vet with the “right” discharge papers and a Purple Heart, comes home from the war with a shrapnel wound and an addiction to morphine.

He is considered a big shot in the small world he lives in, his only marketable talent being his card playing ability.

This is put to use in Zero Schwiefka’s backroom game. Frankie boasts that he is “the kid with the golden arm.” Sparrow Saltskin, a “kid from nowhere,” lures players to Frankie’s game and passes the day by stealing items and dogs.

Record Head Bednar, a police captain weighed down by the guilt of others, is usually the one to take Frankie and Sparrow into custody when needed.

Sophie, Frankie’s wife, known as “Zosh,” stays in the couple’s room, counting on her disability to keep Frankie from leaving her. Her friend Violet, who is unfaithful to her husband with Sparrow, rationalizes his thieving habits with the statement, “Lies are just a poor man’s pennies.”

The main focus of Golden Arm is to confront and disprove the notion that a person’s worth is based on their financial status

. It is meant to demonstrate that the lives of those who are not affluent are just as meaningful and as much a part of the American narrative as any

. In the story, the conclusion of the war brings a wave of prosperity that is seen in the new technologies and advertisements on Division Street. This is seen as a sign of degradation by Algren’s characters, even the bar that serves mixed drinks.

In Algren’s earlier works, his criminals were characterized as vengeful and powerful. However, they are now mature, and they realize they are harmless.

They are unable to articulate how the world has changed and their fury has been replaced by self-sympathy. Frankie Machine’s line, “‘I never get nowheres but I pay my own fare all the way,'” expresses this sentiment.

The protagonists in The Golden Arm inhabit cramped weekly rate hotels and frequent the Tug & Maul bar. They eventually congregate around Frankie’s card game, where they observe each other in silence and try to evade the specter that follows them.


In the United States, owning nothing at all brings a certain, secret guilt, as ownership and morality are intertwined.


Every advertisement that gives instructions to those living in the country serves as a reminder of the individual’s lack of success in fulfilling the materialistic expectations.


No Ford or place of one’s own is on the horizon, and the radio ads, streetcar announcements, and magazine standards have all gone unmet.


The money spent in the decades after Golden Arm to alter the behaviors of individuals like Algren’s characters was done so to pass by the men and women whom the boom years were designed for.

Algren’s prose, compassion, and prescience in this book make it one of the best of the twentieth century, as was attested to by glowing reviews from several publications.

The book was even nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, and Hemingway’s promotional quote was taped to Algren’s fridge due to its extravagance; it pleased him so much that Doubleday found it too far.


As time passes, the impact of Thomas Wolfe is decreasing while the brilliance of Nelson Algren is intensifying, similar to a corvette or a destroyer.


He is a force to be reckoned with and one should be cautious when dealing with him. Indeed, Algren is proficient at what he does.


Liebling, a writer for the New Yorker, followed Algren around Chicago for a story and Art Shay, a photographer for Life magazine, took pictures for a cover story.

Irving Lazar, a Hollywood agent, called Algren to offer him a job writing dialogue for a substantially greater salary than the one he received for books.

John Garfield, a famous actor, wanted to portray Frankie Machine on the big screen, and he already had a producer. In March 1950, Algren was awarded the National Book Award in a ceremony in New York City, presented to him by Eleanor Roosevelt.

This was the first time Algren wore a tuxedo in his life.

In the introduction to the fiftieth-anniversary edition of Golden Arm, Dan Simon, publisher of Seven Stories Press, shared a picture of a beaming Algren – cigar in mouth – holding the award, giving off the impression of a person who had taken on the world and come out victorious, as if he had expected to win in the first place.

The apex of Algren’s career quickly transformed into a precipitous fall, and it’s easy to mistake this narrative for the now-overused trope of artistic redemption.

Where a talented individual ascends to greatness only to be brought down by immoral behavior, only to rise again with a newfound humility. However, this is not the case for Algren. His moral shortcomings like drinking and gambling were an issue, yet it was his moral integrity that led to his unraveling.

Prior to the publication of Golden Arm, Algren had a limited presence in the public consciousness outside of Chicago.

Afterwards, anyone interested could easily uncover a plethora of information that made Algren an unsuitable candidate as a major figure in the 1950s America. In 1948, he campaigned for Henry A

Wallace, the Progressive Party’s presidential nominee, was part of the Chicago Committee for the Hollywood Ten, and signed an open letter to Soviet artists expressing his opposition to “the exploiters who hope to convert America into a Fourth Reich.

” When he arrived in Hollywood in 1950, he was closely associated with Albert Maltz, who was soon convicted for his part in the Hollywood Ten incident. Furthermore, Algren had been a communist for years and he refused to hide or modify his political beliefs. [7]

The consequences of Algren’s unwillingness to compromise became increasingly clear in the following years. The FBI kept a close eye on him in Hollywood and his Life magazine cover story was never published. Algren sold the rights to his book,

Golden Arm, to John Garfield. Garfield then sold the rights to Otto Preminger, and Frank Sinatra was nominated for an Academy Award for his role in the film that was made from it. Algren’s biographer calculated that Algren was short-changed $42,000 (the equivalent of $360,000 today) from the deal and he spent half of the money that Garfield paid him for the rights and script litigating against Preminger.

He had used the money he made from the deal to buy a small house, but after the Hollywood episode, he ended up losing it due to legal costs.

However, it was his reduced ability to be published that was the most painful. During the three years after Golden Arm, Algren wrote two short books that were impressive, unique, and frank in their assessment of the nation’s evolving ideology

. The first, Chicago: City on the Make, is an extended prose poem that portrays Chicago’s history through the perspective of criminality. It may be one of the most passionate and sincere love letters ever penned.

The book begins with the theft of land from the Pottawatomie Indians and concludes in 1951, when “we do as we’re told, praise poison, bless the F.B.I., yearn wistfully for just one small chance to prove ourselves more abject than anyone yet for expenses to Washington and return.

” Surprisingly, City on the Make was met with positive reviews–the Chicago Sun-Times declared it “The finest thing on the city since [Carl] Sandburg’s Chicago Poems“–yet expectedly, it didn’t exceed a second printing of five thousand copies.

In the summer of 1952, Algren was having drinks with a Chicago Daily News editor, who asked him to prepare an essay for their paper’s book section

. Algren then wrote a two-thousand-word essay that was a critical take on McCarthyism, which ran under the title of GREAT WRITING BOGGED DOWN IN FEAR, SAYS NOVELIST ALGREN

. The article was published fifteen months before Edward Murrow’s famous attack on McCarthy, and it was one of the few voices of opposition. To everyone’s surprise, the essay resonated with readers.

It was eventually reprinted by The Nation and even preached by progressive clergy members in two states.

When Algren’s essay was extracted from a book he had been writing on and off for a year, Doubleday asserted their right to publish it.

However, in March, he was denied a passport and in April and June, two and then three informants told the FBI he had been a communist in the ’30s

. Algren then sent the manuscript to Doubleday in June, with an introduction by Max Geismar, who had been assisting with the editing.

Geismar privately wrote to Algren that this would be one of the first books to be burned, though in September, Doubleday refused to publish the book.

Algren then sent the completed manuscript to his agent, but it disappeared. It is unclear if it was lost in the mail, his agent misplaced it, or was taken by the FBI.

At Ricardo’s, Algren sadly presented the carbons from the manuscript of his book to Van Allen Bradley, the editor at the Daily News who had commissioned the essay that spawned the novel

. After Algren’s death, Bradley handed the carbons to the archive that contained the author’s work and Bettina Drew, Algren’s biographer, located them.

The lost manuscript was eventually published in 1996 by Seven Stories Press, under the title Nonconformity: Writing on Writing. In the book, Algren stated that anyone can write, but literature is only produced by individuals who do not accept the current state of society

. Before Nonconformity was released, some readers may have assumed that Algren’s characters were simply a way to draw in an audience seeking voyeuristic thrills. With this publication, Algren clarified the truth.

Algren’s book is firmly rooted in its historical context–“Between the pretense and the piety. Between the H Bomb and the A”–but its vision is timeless.

For him, writing is not a profession or a pastime.

It is a vocation that requires writers to offer more of their emotions than they can manage, and calls for them to relate the most honest stories they can. Anything else is just ink on paper. In return for these sacrifices, there is no recompense.

Rather, he foresees commercial failure and a chance of emotional breakdown, yet holds true to his vision and claims that the other side necessitates more: compliance.

Algren’s core idea for Nonconformity was that ideas are equal, regardless of the social status of the person who thought of them.

He used his own voice and those of various authors, such as Dostoyevsky, Fitzgerald, Carpentier, Dooley, de Beauvoir, and Durocher, to discuss and analyze this concept. Algren ultimately determined that the only way to accurately write about America is through the lens of poverty.

He asserted that there were too many myths, not enough clarity, and considerable self-delusion surrounding the American Century, making it difficult to clearly report on it. Algren’s unique vision in 1953 is still relevant today, and its absence has weakened the literary tradition.

In his need for cash, Algren agreed to a deal with Doubleday to modify S omebody in Boots. Instead of editing it, he decided to write a new novel that contained some of the same scenes to meet the contract’s requirements.

This was the first time he had done this just to get money, and he felt much guilt as a result. In a letter to his friend and fellow writer Millen Brand.

He said that all the writers of the ’30s “gave up, opted out, sold themselves, copped out, denied everything, and ran.” He even included himself: “[Kenneth Fearing] is doing this, Ben Appel is doing this, and I am too. No one stayed.”

Algren stuck to his own principles, even if they were seen as “hacking”. His book was cleverly written and humorous, but the protagonist was a drifter who didn’t buy into the traditional American Dream.

Doubleday sent back the manuscript for amendments, concerned it would be considered obscene. He rewrote it, but was still turned down.

Then, Farrar, Straus and Cudahy published it under the title A Walk on the Wild Side in May 1956. Critics didn’t pan the writing, but the content.

This was the same vision that made him famous in 1950, but in 1956 it made him an outcast.

Norman Podhoretz in the New Yorker commented that Algren wanted readers to see that society’s outcasts are actually more “respectable” than preachers and politicians. Leslie Fiedler in the Reporter deemed him the “last of the proletarian writers”.

In September 1956, Algren had become so despondent due to the reviews of his work and his publishing prospects that his acquaintances Neal Rowland and Dave Peltz had him hospitalized.

After only two days, he checked himself out, and that December he took a stroll across a half-frozen pond near the home in Gary, Indiana which he was about to be evicted from. When he fell through the ice, a group of working-class men saved him by throwing him a rope and hauling him out

. He rejected the notion that it was a suicide attempt, but few of his friends were convinced of his explanation.

It is possible that Algren’s legacy could have been more widely appreciated if he had passed away in 1956. Had that happened, it is likely that he would have been rediscovered in the late 1960s or early 1970s, when the political climate had shifted. He could have been seen as a heroic figure who was hindered in his career and life due to the McCarthyism and the oppressive nature of 1950s America. One can almost envision the reprinting of modern classics, as well as the typing of PhD dissertations. However, Algren did not die, he never fully disappeared and refused to be championed.

It was roughly one year after his fall through ice that Algren moved to a third-floor walkup at 1958 West Evergreen.

This new place was not far from where he had resided while writing Never Come Morning and was also quite close to his childhood home.

This apartment was to be his dwelling for the next eighteen years, during which he worked hard to make a living by delivering speeches, obtaining rights to reprint, foreign translation, and movie adaptations, as well as writing book reviews, magazine features, and three books.

Occasionally, he was presented with the opportunity to repair his career, but he wasn’t willing to sacrifice what was necessary and was too fragile to admit his curiosity

. In 1965, the Iowa Writers’ Workshop proposed to him 14 thousand dollars to teach, which was a major growth from its past bids.

He accepted the offer since he needed the money, but taught in his own style.

He evaluated essay drafts at a bar or around a card table, and advised his students that the only way to become a writer was to live life

. The following year he gained and accepted a number of speaking engagements, which he referred to as “Going on the Ho Chi Minh Trail” as he viewed writing literature in 1966 as a form of public opposition to the Vietnam War.

When he was on stage, Algren played a recording of Hemingway reading “Saturday Night at the Whorehouse in Billings, Montana” and then rebuked the war.

The Tet Offensive was still two years away; the first big national protests wouldn’t occur until three years later.

During his thirties, Algren was an attractive man.

He looked like a working-class boy, all grown up and trying to be an intellectual who was pretending to be a tough guy. His features were European, with a dramatic widow’s peak, kind eyes, and a trim figure.

As he got older, with Chicago and the country becoming more affluent, Algren became more disheveled and eccentric. His physique was rounder, and he often wore unzipped polyester pants.

If he ever got a gravy stain on his tie, he would pour salt on it.

When a young admirer of his work sought him out for advice, Algren met him at a bar and the only thing he seriously recommended was that the young man should go to the animal house at the Lincoln Park Zoo, as well as meeting Candy at the corner of Kedzie and Sixteenth.

Algren’s later works were often acclaimed but he no longer sought to be a star.

He opted to be around those he enjoyed instead of those who could help his career and appeared to be indifferent to his own success.

He started to refer to himself as a journalist and “loser” in the same mold as Melville and went so far as to swear off writing any more big books.

When he was asked to explain his new lifestyle, he put it in the same terms that his dad might have if ever faced with the same predicament: “If I was able to make it without writing, I would be so pleased.

I compose for financial security and I’m not attempting to change the world… I’m content with this job, which I can do without much effort – and since there is nothing else I can do.”

Algren’s reaction to criticism was to bluster, but he still kept writing literature. He released an autobiography in 1964 titled Conversations with Nelson Algren and two travel books, Who Lost an American? and Notes from a Sea Diary, in ’63 and ’65 respectively.

A collection of his magazine articles, essays, and short fiction was published in ’73 as The Last Carousel. His later works, though inconsistent, still held true to his belief that it was his role as a writer to confront authority with “conscience in touch with humanity.”

In 1974, Algren had been residing in his West Evergreen flat when the American Academy of Arts and Letters made contact to inform him they had all voted to give him the Award of Merit.

For the Novel, an honor that only a few other literary icons had received such as Dreiser, Mann, Hemingway, Huxley, O’Hara, and Nabokov.

The mid-sixties writer, who was close to retirement, did not get overly excited about being given an accolade that would not improve his ability to publish.

He accepted the honor courteously, in writing, but he decided to lecture to a garden club in Chicago on the day of the awards ceremony

. Many years later, his friend and Academy member, Kurt Vonnegut, questioned him about the medal, to which Algren replied it must have “rolled under the couch.”

In 1974, Algren was in Paterson, New Jersey on an assignment from Esquire magazine to investigate the case of Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, a middle-weight boxer who had been convicted of multiple homicides.

The magazine wanted a story that looked into the psychology of a murderer, with the presumption being Carter was guilty.

After looking into the case, Algren wrote an article suggesting Carter’s innocence, but Esquire refused to publish it due to those claims.

This was to be Algren’s final lost cause.

By 1975, Algren had achieved an award but was slowly disappearing into obscurity. Chicago had changed drastically from the “drafty hustler’s junction” he had painted it to be, and his stories of the shabby past were no longer attractive to the affluent present

. Disheartened to have failed to locate one of his books in the main library, Algren chose to leave the only city he knew and move to Paterson.

On camera at a party, Studs Terkel asked Algren about his choice to depart, to which he replied with a deadpan expression, “Downtown Paterson is really… something you shouldn’t see after midnight. It’s my kind of town. I like it, I like it.”

After four years of exile, the now impoverished Algren suffered a heart attack which he kept from those close to him.

He had offered a non-fiction manuscript about the Carter case but publishers only wanted his fiction

. He rewrote it as a novel but refused to accept the offered sum for it and it was only published after his death. Rejected, unwell, and with no work on the horizon, Algren moved to Sag Harbor, Long Island to effectively retire.

Algren found a modest bungalow near the Atlantic coast and organized his writing area. Without the pressure of trying to exceed himself, he was content for the first time in many years.

On weekends he visited a nearby book store and became reacquainted with Kurt Vonnegut, who in turn brought him to Peter Matthiessen.

Betty Friedan lived close by and would often take him for rides in a jalopy that had cost her a hundred bucks. One time, the car swerved and Algren was thrown onto the pavement.

When the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters called Algren in February 1981 to let him know he had been inducted as a full member, he was content and satisfied

. A long-awaited honor that returned him to the public eye, a German press purchased his book about Rubin Carter, as well as the rights to his other major works

. Furthermore, the New York Times and Newsday reached out for interviews. Algren mused, “I’ve been in this crazy field for nearly half a century. I guess I’m still here,” with his typical combination of ill-will, satisfaction, and self-deprecation.

Algren considered himself to be in the same position as Melville, who was “ostracized” for his work on Moby-Dick and made only a meager salary as a customs inspector. Algren determined that the same would happen to him, and he would not receive any acknowledgement from the literary world during his lifetime.

He was correct, albeit by a small margin.

On the 8th of May, 1981, Algren felt pains in his chest. His doctor urged him to go to the hospital for observation, but Algren refused as he was planning a party to celebrate his induction into the Academy the following day.

Later, at 6:05 a.m. on the 9th, Algren had a fatal heart attack

. With no will or next of kin, his body went unclaimed for two days. People contacted Joe Pintauro, who had known Algren for only a year, to express their condolences

. Algren’s agent, Candida Donadio, had to arrange for the headstone, which was initially misspelled. The replacement stone, placed near the edge of the cemetery on Pintauro’s suggestion, contains the epigraph.

“THE END IS NOTHING. THE ROAD IS ALL.” to commemorate the life of a man who was more interested in the fight than the victory and who gambled without thought of the consequences. [9]

I can easily envision a challenge to the selection of Algren’s books I have elected to include in my analysis. I am including all the works of literature he created while still alive.

Nonconformity and The Devil’s Stocking were published after his death, but they were already completed before that.

I am not taking into consideration two posthumous collections of his writing, The Texas Stories and Entrapment; the compilation he edited, Nelson Algren’s Own Book of Lonesome Monsters; or even Conversations with Nelson Algren, which was published in 1957.

Additionally, I am not including America Eats, a gastronomical book he wrote for the WPA, which was not published until after his death and was not something he wanted.

I am grateful to Bettina Drew for her great biography, Nelson Algren: A Life on the Wild Side, which has been published since 1989 and has not been significantly contradicted in any way

. Other writings that offer additional insight into Algren’s character are “Nelson Algren’s Last Year: ‘Algren in Exile'”, “The First Annual Nelson Algren Memorial Poker Game”, “Nelson Algren: The Iron Sanctuary” by Maxwell Geismar, and “A Voyeur’s View of the Wild Side: Nelson Algren and His Reviewers” by Lawrence Lipton.

On January 25, 1934, before leaving Alpine, Algren spent fifteen minutes typing something in Sul Ross and left the premises with the typewriter he used

. Later that night, upon being arrested a few miles outside of the town, he made a sorrowful confession saying he really wanted to possess a typewriter since he was a writer by profession and he had never owned one

He stayed in jail for almost a month, being released just before his deadline.

Kontowicz and Algren had a turbulent relationship which lasted more than two decades; they split up and reunited several times, and were married twice

. Amanda was an extraordinary woman, yet Algren still treated her in a careless manner

. He yearned for comfort, and desired stability in an abstract way that reality could not provide. Whenever he moved in with a woman he quickly lost interest, feeling apathy and not wanting to be accountable to anyone.

It cannot be ignored that Algren and de Beauvoir were lovers, but I do not have the space to do their relationship justice, so I will not try.

They had an enduring long-distance relationship which lasted for several years; those who are curious about the details can find them in The Mandarins, America Day by Day, and A Transatlantic Love Affair: Letters to Nelson Algren.

It is uncertain if he ever joined the Communist Party. It is clear that he viewed himself as a communist for some time, and spent a great deal of time at the John Reed Club.

The FBI alleged that he was a CP member, but Algren himself denied it, and never proceeded to court, perhaps to avoid perjuring himself

. Whether or not he signed a card and paid dues remains unknown.

I am asserting that he was a communist because he referred to himself as such (“I went into the Communist movement,” he states in Conversations with Nelson Algren) and because I have a positive view of those who joined the CP during the Great Depression and left when they became aware of Stalin, and I think highly of Algren.

The two writers, a world champion boxer, a fictitious bartender, a philosopher/writer, and an infielder.

This quote is generally attributed to Willa Cather, but it actually belongs to Jules Michelet.

In Old Mrs. Harris, a novella published in 1932, one of Cather’s characters quotes Michelet in French and then translates it. Ever since then, the phrase has been credited to Cather, who frequently used it in her speeches.

One way to avoid plagiarism is to modify the structure of a text without altering its meaning or context. This can be done by rephrasing the words and sentences while still expressing the same ideas. Furthermore, it is important to ensure the markdown formatting is kept intact.

One way to avoid plagiarism is to alter the structure of the text while still maintaining the meaning and context

. This can be achieved by rewording the sentences, rearranging the order of the sentences, and changing the syntax. Doing so will help keep the original ideas intact while still producing an entirely new piece of text.

This portrait of author Nelson Algren, taken in 1949, was created by artist Robert McCullough. The Library of Congress has generously provided the image.

Possible Similar Options

The effect of the pandemic has been dramatic, with the global economy experiencing a significant downturn. As the virus has spread, the financial markets have registered a pronounced decrease in activity, leading to a sharp decline in business growth.

This has caused many organisations to suffer, as they have had to adjust to the new reality of reduced trading. Consequently, there has been a major reduction in employment, with companies having to make difficult decisions in order to stay afloat.

It is clear that the pandemic has had a profound impact on the world’s economy, with its effects being felt by businesses and individuals alike.


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