The Algren Chronicles: Somebody’s Street Fair

A documentary about author Nelson Algren. In the piece, various artists, journalists, and writers speak about Algren's life, his literary work, and the importance of his writings in Chicago. Also features many photographs by Stephen Deutch and Art Shay.

00:00Copy video clip URL Video begins with an interview with Dave Dudak, a Wicker Park resident,  speaking about the importance of Nelson Algren’s work in the city of Chicago and in the literary world. Dudak believes that Algren and his writings have been overlooked in Chicago, Algren’s own home town. “He’s a world class artist and writer and he lives right in just a general population neighborhood now, a little underprivileged and I mean, the guy just doesn’t get invited, why? His works and what he contributed to the world are insurmountable and then we go and we name parks and streets after somebody’s cousin, some alderman’s cousin that’s probably doing hard time.” There is a shot of 1958 W. Evergreen St, former home of Nelson Algren. Dudak continues to emphasize the lack of appreciation for Algren in Chicago.

01:42Copy video clip URL Cut to footage from the 1987 Printer’s Row Street Fair. Audio clips of Studs Terkel and Nelson Algren recount a story told by Algren in his short story “The Ryebread Trees of Spring” about poets trying to capture the essence of Chicago. Footage of disadvantaged Chicagoans rolls as various speakers describe Algren as a man who gave a voice to the downtrodden.

02:53Copy video clip URL Cut to a shot inside of photojournalist Art Shay’s car as he briefly speaks about Algren’s FBI record.

03:46Copy video clip URL Cut to a close-up shot of Shay being interviewed about Algren’s popularity and promotional practices for writers during his time. Shay explains that Algren never truly made it on a best seller platform because of the time in which he was writing. Shay states that back then, there were no nationally syndicated shows to help promote Algren’s writings.

04:36Copy video clip URL Cut to a shot of  American poet Gwendolyn Brooks as she speaks of Algren’s character at a book reading. She states that Algren had a “hate/love relationship with Chicago” but emphasizes his honest and truthful assessments of the city. “The Algren eye was straight, sharp, compassionate, but candidly assessing. So was the Algren heart. Those of you who knew him, I’m sure would agree with me.”

06:11Copy video clip URL Cut to a shot of playwright Denise DeClue speaking about Algren at the same event. The crew interviews DeClue about her first experience in meeting Algren. DeClue, Algren, and a group of other literary figures had gone out to dinner. Throughout the meal, Algren had been poking fun at DeClue. The story is quite amusing and gives the viewer a good sense of what Algren was really like.

09:11Copy video clip URL Cut to an interview with author John Schultz. Schultz shares a few stories about Algren. He goes on to speak about Algren’s so-called bitterness during his later years and the struggles he had to overcome.

12:03Copy video clip URL Cut to a shot of art photographer Stephen Deutch speaking about an experience he had taking a few pictures of Algren. Deutch goes on to state, “To me, Nelson was a unique kind of a phenomena. The man of enormous talents as for writing is concerned, a great deal of care about man, man in general. Although he wrote about the people who got lost in this complicated world, I think that went beyond him.” Deutch then talks about some of his favorite Algren works, one being “Chicago: City On The Make.”

14:58Copy video clip URL Cut to some footage of an indoor book fair. The camera operator slowly pans around the fair as an audio clip from Herman Kogan’s reading of “Chicago: City On The Make” plays in the background.

16:15Copy video clip URL Cut to an interview between author/journalist Kenan Heise and playwright Warren Lemming discussing Algren’s many qualities that set him apart from other writers. Heise talks about Algren having a very deep sense of democracy in his writing. The two also discuss Chicago’s various social problems and how Algren tied those problems into his writing. Heise goes on to state, “He [Algren] knew that you have to excite somebody with a word or two. I mean, you know, if you were going to write a sentence, you not going to write a boring one, you know. If you respect the next person, you’re going to put that energy and effort into each word, into each sentence, into each paragraph, into each book, and Algren did that. He did his homework. He was a good writer, a good hard-working craftsman, and with an exciting a philosophy, and philosophy of Chicago, and that’s that philosophy of democracy, of democratic literature.” Lemming then plays the devil’s advocate and paints another more negative picture of Algren for Heise to respond to. Heise then talks about the fact that Algren focused on the more “seedy side of the city” in his writing. The two continue to talk about Algren and his writing for the next few minutes.

23:06Copy video clip URL Cut to some shots of Skid Row in Chicago as as some audio of Algren reading “Ode to Lower Finksville” plays in the background.

24:10Copy video clip URL Cut to a short Channel 5 News piece on Algren’s departure from the city of Chicago in 1974 for Paterson, New Jersey. There is footage of Algren on train leaving from Union Station. Algren speaks of his detachment from Chicago and states that he will not miss the city once he’s gone.

25:22Copy video clip URL The credits begin to roll.

25:52Copy video clip URL Tape ends.

 

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