Celebrating Nelson Algren’s 106th Birthday

Saturday marks the 106th anniversary of the birth of Nelson Algren (1909–1981), a writer beloved for his works which often captured Chicago’s grittier underbelly, most notably in The Man With the Golden Arm (1949) and the essay Chicago, City on the Make (1951). His impact went far beyond Chicago, though, and he was respected and read across the globe, perhaps most devotedly in Europe.Although he later moved to Paterson, New Jersey, his love for the down-and-out in Chicago has nonetheless remained a defining characteristic of his literary career. Studs Terkel once described Algren’s connection to the city, saying:

“Nelson was married to Chicago, a real honest-to-God marriage. Sometimes they fought, husband and wife; sometimes they loved each other very much; but always they knew they were together. When someone says, ‘My wife is the most beautiful woman in the world, no one ever like her, she is a saint,’ he’s a liar! The fact is his wife is a human being whom he loves, and Nelson is that way with the city. He said, ‘Living in Chicago is like being married to a woman with a broken nose—there may be lovelier lovelies, but never a lovely so real.'”

In honor of his birthday, we’ve gathered some archival audio clips of Studs, Algren, Herman Kogan, and others reading a retelling of a story from “The Ryebread Trees of Spring” and passages from Chicago, City on the Make and “Ode to Lower Finksville.”

The Nelson Algren Committee, who continue to keep Algren’s legacy alive, will be throwing their annual birthday party in Algren’s memory tomorrow, March 28th, at the Bloomingdale Artists Building, 2418 W Bloomingdale. Part of the program will include a sneak preview of a new documentary, Nelson Algren: The End is Nothing, the Road is All, co-directed by Mark Blottner and Denis Mueller. Doors open at 7:30 and the festivities will get underway at 8:00. Admission is $10 at the door, $5 for seniors and students with ID.

There will also be three screenings of Michael Caplan’s “Algren: The Movie” at Music Box this weekend to celebrate.



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