Illinois State Library

Illinois Center for the Book

Individual Author Record

General Information

Name:  Nelson Algren  

Pen Name: None

Genre: Fiction Non-Fiction & Poetry

Audience: Adult;

Born: March 28, 1909 in Detroit, Michigan

Died: May 9, 1981 in Long Island, New York

-- The Nelson Algren Committee --
-- Wikipedia --
-- Nelson Algren on WorldCat --

Illinois Connection

Algren lived and worked in Chicago between 1939 and 1970.

Biographical and Professional Information

Nelson Algren was born in Detroit and died in New York but spent the better part of his life his childhood through his most productive writing years in Chicago. He was a novelist and short story writer who was once called the "Poet of the Chicago Slums." He combined subjects drawn from street life with an eloquent, poetic style in a series of novels ans short stories, many of which were in Chicago's Polish communities. His early books include ''Somebody in Boots'' (1935), ''Never Come Morning'' (1942) and the short-story collection, ''The Neon Wilderness'' (1947). ''The Man with a Golden Arm'' (1949) was a great popular success and became a successful Hollywood film starring Frank Sinatra in 1956. ''A Walk on the Wild Side'' (1956) was also filmed in 1962. Algren also wrote the prose poem ''Chicago: City on the Make'' (1951).

Published Works Expand for more information

Titles At Your Library

Somebody in Boots: A Novel (Classic Reprint Series)
ISBN: 0938410407

Thunder's Mouth Pr. 1987

During the Depression, Cass McKay, a young man from Texas, is forced to ride the rails, live in hobo jungles, and search for handouts

Never Come Morning
ISBN: 1583222790

Seven Stories Press. 2001

Never Come Morning is unique among the novels of Algren. The author's only romance, the novel concerns Brun Bicek, a would-be pub from Chicago's Northwest side, and Steffi, the woman who shares his dream while living his nightmare. "It is an unusual and brilliant book," said The New York Times. "A bold scribbling upon the wall for comfortable Americans to ponder and digest." This new edition features an introduction by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. and an interview with Nelson Algren by H.E.F. Donohue.

Neon Wilderness
ISBN: 0844610143

Peter Smith. 1968

As rock and roll novelist Tom Carson writes in his introduction, "The Neon Wilderness is the pivotal book of Nelson Algren's career--the one which bid a subdued but determined farewell to everything that had earlier made him no more than just another good writer, and inaugurated the idiosyncratic, bedevilled, cantankerously poetic sensibility that would see him ranked among the few literary originals of his times."
Algren's classic 1947 short story collection is the pure vein Algren would mine for all his subsequent novels and stories. The stories in this collection are literary triumphs that "don't fade away."
Among the stories included here are "A Bottle of Milk for Mother," about a Chicago youth being cornered for a murder, and "The Face on the Barrome Floor," in which a legless man pummels another man nearly to death--the seeds that would grow into the novel Never Come Morning. Algren's World War II stories whose final expression would be in the novel The Man with the Golden Arm are also part of this collection. "So Help Me," Algren's first published work, is here. Other stories include, "The Captain Has Bad Dreams," in which Algren first introduced the character of the blameless captain who feels such a heavy burden of guilt and wonders why the criminal offenders he sees seem to feel no guilt at all. And then there is "Design for Departure," in which a young woman drifting into hooking and addiction sees her own dreaminess outlasting her hopes.

The Man with the Golden Arm (50th Anniversary Edition): 50th Anniversary Critical Edition
ISBN: 1583220089

Seven Stories Press. 1999

The Man with the Golden Arm is Nelson Algren's most powerful and enduring work. On the 50th anniversary of its publication in November 1949, for which Algren was honored with the first National Book Award (which he received from none other than Eleanor Roosevelt at a ceremony in March 1950), Seven Stories is proud to release the first critical edition of an Algren work.
A novel of rare genius, The Man with the Golden Arm describes the dissolution of a card-dealing WWII veteran named Frankie Machine, caught in the act of slowly cutting his own heart into wafer-thin slices. For Frankie, a murder committed may be the least of his problems.
The literary critic Malcolm Cowley called The Man with the Golden Arm "Algren's defense of the individual," while Carl Sandburg wrote of its "strange midnight dignity." A literary tour de force, here is a novel unlike any other, one in which drug addiction, poverty, and human failure somehow suggest a defense of human dignity and a reason for hope.
Special contributions by Russell Banks, Bettina Drew, James R. Giles, Carlo Rotella, William Savage, Lee Stringer, Studs Terkel, Kurt Vonnegut, and others.

Chicago, City on the Make
ISBN: 0070010129

McGraw-Hill. 1983

Ernest Hemingway once said of Nelson Algren's writing that "you should not read it if you cannot take a punch." The prose poem, Chicago: City on the Make, filled with language that swings and jabs and stuns, lives up to those words. This 50th anniversary edition is newly annotated with explanations for everything from slang to Chicagoans, famous and obscure, to what the Black Sox scandal was and why it mattered. More accessible than ever, this is, as Studs Terkel says, "the best book about Chicago."

"Algren's Chicago, a kind of American annex to Dante's inferno, is a nether world peopled by rat—faced hustlers and money—loving demons who crawl in the writer's brilliant, sordid, uncompromising and twisted imagination. . . . [This book] searches a city's heart and mind rather than its avenues and public buildings."—New York Times Book Review

"This short, crisp, fighting creed is both a social document and a love poem, a script in which a lover explains his city's recurring ruthlessness and latent power

in which an artist recognizes that these are portents not of death, but of life."—New York Herald Tribune

Nelson Algren (1909-1981) won the National Book Award in 1950 for The Man with the Golden Arm. His other works include Walk on the Wild Side, The Neon Wilderness, and Conversations with Nelson Algren, the last available from the University of Chicago Press. David Schmittgens teaches English at St. Ignatius College Prep in Chicago, Illinois. Bill Savage is a lecturer at Northwestern University and coeditor of the 50th Anniversary Critical Edition of The Man with the Golden Arm.

A Walk on the Wild Side: A Novel
ISBN: 0374525323

Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 1998

With its depictions of the downtrodden prostitutes, bootleggers, and hustlers of Perdido Street in the old French Quarter of 1930s New Orleans, A Walk in the Wild Side has found a place in the imaginations of all generations since it first appeared. As Algren admitted, the book "wasn't written until long after it had been walked . . . I found my way to the streets on the other side of the Southern Pacific station, where the big jukes were singing something called 'Walking the Wild Side of Life.' I've stayed pretty much on that side of the curb ever since."

Perhaps the author's own words describe this classic work best: "The book asks why lost people sometimes develop into greater human beings than those who have never been lost in their whole lives. Why men who have suffered at the hands of other men are the natural believers in humanity, while those whose part has been simply to acquire, to take all and give nothing, are the most contemptuous of mankind."

Notes From a Sea Diary: Hemingway All the Way

Fawcett Publications Inc.. 1966

mass market paperback book

Algren at Sea: Notes from a Sea Diary & Who Lost an American?#Travel Writings
ISBN: 1583228411

Seven Stories Press. 2009

Nelson Algren's two travel writing books describe his journeys through the seamier sides of great American cities and the international social and political landscapes of the mid-1960s. Algren at Sea brings them together in one volume.

Notes from a Sea Diary offers one of the most remarkable appraisals of Ernest Hemingway ever written. Aboard the freighter Malayasia Mail, Algren ponders his personal encounter with Hemingway in Cuba and the values inherent in Hemingway’s stories as he visits the ports of Pusan, Kowloon, Bombay, and Calcutta.

Who Lost an American? is a whirlwind spin through Paris and Playboy clubs, New York publishing and Dublin pubs, Crete and Chicago, as Algren adventures with Simone de Beauvoir, Jean-Paul Sartre, Brendan Behan, and Juliette Gréco.

The Last Carousel
ISBN: 1888363452

Seven Stories Press. 1997

The fiction and reportage included in The Last Carousel, one of the final collections published during Nelson Algren's lifetime, was written on ships and in ports of call around the world, and includes accounts of brothels in Vietnam and Mexico, stories of the boxing ring, and reminiscences of Algren's beloved Chicago White Sox, among other subjects. In this collection, not just Algren's intensity but his diversity are revealed and celebrated.

The Devil's Stocking
ISBN: 1583226990

Seven Stories Press. 2006

The Devil’s Stocking is the story of Ruby Calhoun, a boxer accused of murder in a shadowy world of low-purse fighters, cops, con artists, and bar girls. Chronicling a battle for truth and human dignity which gives way to a larger story of life and death decisions, literary grandmaster Nelson Algren’s last novel is a fitting capstone to a long and brilliant career.

America Eats (Iowa Szathmary Culinary Arts Series)
ISBN: 0877453616

Univ of Iowa Pr. 1992

Book by Algren, Nelson, Schoonover, David E.

Nonconformity: Writing on Writing
ISBN: 1888363053

Seven Stories Press. 1996

The struggle to write with deep emotion is the subject of this extraordinary book, the previously unpublished credo of one of America's greatest 20th-century writers.
"You don't write a novel out of sheer pity any more than you blow a safe out of a vague longing to be rich," writes Nelson Algren in his only longer work of nonfiction, adding: "A certain ruthlessness and a sense of alienation from society is as essential to creative writing as it is to armed robbery."
Nonconformity is about 20th-century America: "Never on the earth of man has he lived so tidily as here amidst such psychological disorder." And it is about the trouble writers ask for when they try to describe America: "Our myths are so many, our vision so dim, our self-deception so deep and our smugness so gross that scarcely any way now remains of reporting the American Century except from behind the billboards . . . [where there] are still . . . defeats in which everything is lost [and] victories that fall close enough to the heart to afford living hope."
In Nonconformity, Algren identifies the essential nature of the writer's relation to society, drawing examples from Dostoyevsky, Chekhov, Twain, and Fitzgerald, as well as utility infielder Leo Durocher and legendary barkeep Martin Dooley. He shares his deepest beliefs about the state of literature and its role in society, along the way painting a chilling portrait of the early 1950s, Joe McCarthy's heyday, when many American writers were blacklisted and ruined for saying similar things to what Algren is saying here.

The Texas Stories of Nelson Algren
ISBN: 0292704682

Univ of Texas Pr. 1995

Larry McMurtry once wrote that Nelson Algren held the best literary claim to the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, though few people realize that "the poet of the Chicago slums" ever lived or wrote here. Yet it was in Depression-era Texas that Algren developed his instinctive need to speak for the powerless--a need that made him one of the foremost chroniclers of the American outcast. The Texas that Algren understood was a world where impoverished people lived among simmering yet casual violence, a world where the law--racist, abusive, and corrupt--ruled with an utter ruthlessness and power. The Texas Stories vividly re-creates this now-vanished world. The collection includes "So Help Me," winner of a 1935 O'Henry Award

"The Last Carousel," which won the 1972 Playboy Fiction Award

and the early "Thundermug," a piece that was censored when it appeared in the radical Windsor Quarterly in 1935. Here too is Algren's unique retelling of the legend of Bonnie and Clyde. Including work from more than four decades, The Texas Stories provides a much-needed overview of Algren's artistic development. It will be enthusiastically welcomed by Algren fans, Texans, literary scholars, Western historians, and many others.