A 1999 meeting of the Nelson Algren Committee, an organization dedicated to the preservation and proliferation of Algren's memory and works in the literary world. A slew of celebrated Chicago media and political figures, some who were also friends of Algren's (Studs Terkel, Leon Despres, and Art Shay), attend the meeting and say a few words about the importance of Algren's work.
00:11Copy video clip URL Stu McCarrell welcomes everyone to the tenth Nelson Algren birthday party and introduces the host for the night. The host steps up to the front of the stage and explains why they are celebrating the author’s work. He has a fairly strong Polish accent and is somewhat hard to understand.
02:07Copy video clip URL McCarrell steps back up onto the stage and welcomes everyone again. He begins to talk a little bit about the history of the celebration, and explains that the committee was formed ten years ago with five goals in mind: to gain further recognition of Nelson Algren as a major American writer of the twentieth century; working for the naming or renaming of appropriate parks, libraries, and streets in his honor; supporting the installation of a suitable artwork in his honor; urging the city of Chicago to declare his birthday as Nelson Algren Day; and by supporting all other appropriate matters. McCarrell then sets out a couple of future goals of his own in preserving the memory of Algren and his works.
04:47Copy video clip URL The audience watches a short video from Mark Blottner’s in-process Algren documentary featuring Studs Terkel. The video is playing on a TV monitor across the room, so the footage is hard to see/hear. Many of the audience members laugh and giggle at the stories Terkel is sharing about Algren.
12:07Copy video clip URL The tape cuts out and comes back in after a few seconds.
21:32Copy video clip URL The video excerpt ends and Blottner gives verbal credits. He then plays a video of the Nelson Algren Fountain dedication. In the video, Terkel gives a speech on Algren and his life in Chicago. “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!” “He said, ‘Living in Chicago is like being married to a woman with a broken nose’–there may be a lovely of lovelies, but never a loving so real.'” Terkel then goes on to say that the crowd before him has “Chicago faces, wrinkles, and lived in faces, not like the beautiful people in society.” Terkel then reads a selection from one of Algren’s books and steps down. The filmmaker then fast forwards through much of the recorded speech and stops when Mayor Daley begins to talk about Chicago, how diverse the city is, and how important Algren’s work was to the city. The audience members laugh and giggle throughout Daley’s speech as Daley tries to impress the crowd by echoing Terkel’s speech in his trademark awkward style.
29:38Copy video clip URL The video ends and Stu McCarrell steps back up onto the stage and introduces Art Shay, a photographer who had released a book of Algren photos. Shay shows a number of slides of Algren around Chicago and of his work.
43:55Copy video clip URL Cut to McCarrell speaking fondly of Studs Terkel and of the helping hand he has lended to the committee over the years. “Studs was not only fundamental to the foundation of the committee, but he’s always been fundamental, of course, in Nelson’s life, and in the life of Chicago.”
44:54Copy video clip URL Terkel takes the stage and begins to talk about Algren. He first says a word about Stu McCarrell’s hard work in keeping Algren’s memory alive. Terkel also praises Dan Simon, an independent publisher at Seven Stories Press, for keeping Algren’s work in the public eye. Terkel also reads a short passage that Hemingway wrote about Algren’s writing in The Man With A Golden Arm. At this point, Terkel has the crowd in the palm of his hand, and beautifully recounts one of Algren’s stories entitled, “What Is Art?.” With his engaging style, Terkel brings Algren’s story to life and portrays Algren’s sense of his humor within his writing.
53:18Copy video clip URL McCarrell makes his way up to the stage and introduces Leon Despres, a good friend of Algren’s and former Chicago alderman. Despres speaks of Algren’s work eloquently and lovingly. “He had a conscience in touch with humanity. He makes you angry about what’s happening today. And he has a liveliness and presence that don’t die.” He makes a point of bringing up Algren’s relevence to the present time and that his work will be recognized for quite a while. Despres then quotes William Lloyd Garrison and compares the quote to Algren’s writing by replacing one of the lines. “I am in earnest. I will not equivocate. I will not excuse. I will not retreat a single inch. And I will be read.”
59:38Copy video clip URL McCarrell introduces Bill Savage, an English Professor at Loyola University and Northwestern University. Savage begins by reading a passage from Chicago: City On The Make. Savage’s main point throughout his speech is the danger of corporate culture and how it is draining the lifeblood out of literature. He explains his thoughts on how we as readers can counteract the corporate culture and relates these actions to what Algren stood for in the literary world.
01:11:55Copy video clip URL McCarrell introduces the final speaker of the night, Dan Simon, head of Seven Stories Press and publisher of much of Algren’s work. Simon is very soft-spoken throughout his entire speech as he talks about the importance of Algren’s monument and his newer-found relevance among the Polish community in Chicago. Simon then reads a passage from The Man With The Golden Arm and speaks about Algren’s importance to his publishing company. Simon ends with a quote from Algren about the notion of sentimentality.
01:21:08Copy video clip URL McCarrell takes the stage once again and asks if anyone from the audience would like to come up and say something about Algren and his work.
01:21:43Copy video clip URL Paul Drauss, an attendee of the party, talks about his love for Algren and his work. He then offers his thanks to Stu McCarrell for keeping Algren’s memory alive.
01:23:35Copy video clip URL Art Shay tells a story about Algren, but gets cut off because of the end of the video.
01:24:49Copy video clip URL Tape ends.