Chicago has produced many literary lions over the years. Still, if someone is forced to name who best describes the city, especially the area and residents. Who tend to be excluded from tourist brochures, it’s Nelson Algren. His literary productions may have been relatively small.
The five novels and several collections of short and non-fiction stories. Some of which were published after his death in 1981. But what he wrote continues to resonate in readers’ minds to this day. I would rate his 1951 essay “Chicago: The City of the Brand”. As the best work in the city of all time, with the possible exception of boss Mike Royco.
Unfortunately, Algren’s literary reputation has waned somewhat in recent years.
He is perhaps best known to most people, at least outside of Chicago. As the author of The Man with the Golden Hand. His nagging 1949 novel about heroin addiction, adapted into a 1955 film with Frank Sinatra. Whom he hated in the film. (He also didn’t get along with director Otto Preminger. Day of architectural characterization of his work.
Who he thought hated the character instead of showing the sympathy he was trying to show. And ended up filing a lawsuit against him shortly. After saying he was I have a story with his An Otto Film Preminger.) Now comes Algren, a new documentary by Michael Kaplan. That hopes to revive his legacy for new generations and remind older readers of his work’s significant impact.
As the film shows, Algren’s life is unique enough to inspire his book. Although his writing suggests a difficult upbringing. He grows up in a middle-class neighbourhood south of the city. It graduated from the University of Illinois in 1931, and planned a career as a journalist.
Unfortunately, he hired no one, and after digging, he was arrested in Texas for stealing a typewriter.
And spent several months in prison, a task that allowed him to understand better and identify. Those who are more than the lower class. The homeless, immigrants, drug addicts, criminals, and other outcasts from friendly society. They became the focus of his writing when he returned to Chicago.
General Chicago. After publishing several award-winning short stories and his 1935 debut novel. Someone in Boots, he first settled the controversy when his second novel, Never Coming in the Morning, angered the sizeable Polish-American community in Chicago in 1942.
(After he died in 1981, well-known columnist Mike Roiko persuaded the city to name a street after Algren. But the reaction from the Polish community was still so strong that soon cancelled it.) Kelly banned the book from the Library.
It ended badly and was later immortalized in the novel Beauvoir in 1954 The Mandarins.
As the film shows, he was later hired to review the book. And it was surprising that he was a bit chilly. After serving in World War II City, he returned to the city, publishing a collection of the short story “The Neon Desert” (1947). And began a romance with everyone, the French intellectual and feminist Simone de Beauvoir (then still with Jean-Paul Sartre). Which would last for several years.
Then came the massive success of The Man With the Golden Hand. Which became a bestseller and won the first National Book Award. He had another hit with the 1956 novel A Walk in the Wilderness. Which also became a film he hated – but then there were no more novels.
It turned out he was just creative writing at the University of Iowa.
He visited South Vietnam to cover the war and work on the Ruby Hurricane Carter Trial article. The problem is not with the job because times have changed. He specializes in writing for people. Who can barely keep up with the lowest levels of the socioeconomic ladder. Which the reading public no longer enjoys.
Kaplan illustrated his story through much archival footage, interviews with several friends, fans, and fellow writers. Including William Friedkin, Russell Banks, and Philip Kaufman. Who gave him a minor role in one of his early directorial roles, The Fearless. Frank Superhero Fraud ) and – for some reason – Billy Corgan.
Best of all, there’s an audio recording of Algren that hasn’t been heard in a long time. As well as a look at some of the elaborate photo collages he’s made over the years. Last but not least, this film, along with the latest issue of “Live with Mr. Kelly”, makes a good argument for Chicago as perhaps the cultural centre of the world at this particular time.