Algren, Nelson, 1909-1981

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Nelson Algren, original name Nelson Ahlgren Abraham was born on March 28, 1909 in Detroit, Michigan and died May 9, 1981 in Sag Harbor, New York. Algren's writings focused on the poor, inspired by routine naturalism and its vision of pride, humour, and unquenchable yearnings. He captured the poetic essences of the city's underside: its jukebox pounding, distinguishable stench, and neon glare.

Algren was raised in Chicago and later studied at the University of Illinois, where he graduated with a degree in journalism amidst the depth of the Great Depression. He later adopted a simplified spelling of his original last name, "Algren"; his Swedish grandfather had converted to Judaism and taken the name Abraham. This essentially separated Algren further from his traditional upbringing. He traveled the southern states as a door-to-door salesman and migratory worker, times that inspired his later writings. He later returned to Chicago and wrote for the Works Progress Administration (WPA), primarily in the venereal-disease control unit of the Board of Health. At this time, Algren edited for New Anvil magazine, which exclusively published experimental and leftist writings. Algren worked for the magazine alongside proletarian novelist, Jack Conroy.

Algren's first novel, "Somebody in Boots" (1935), relates to a poor young Texan's experience in the down-and-out Chicago city life. His second novel, "Never Come Morning" (1942), tells of a Polish petty criminal who dreams of escaping his northwest Chicago neighborhood by becoming a prizefighter. His short-story collection, "The Neon Wilderness" (1947), debuted after his service as U.S. Army medical corpsman during World War II. His writings during this time have been revered as some of his best work.

In 1947, Algren met Simone de Beauvoir, famous French writer and feminist; the two began a transatlantic relationship that lasted 17 years. De Beauvoir dedicated her novel "Les Mandarins" (1954) to him, limning him in the character Lewis Brogan.

Algren is most remembered by his novel "The Man with the Golden Arm" (1949), which won the first National Book Award for fiction. The story's hero is named Frankie Machine, whose "golden arm" in poker is threatened by shakiness connected to his drug addiction. Algren's "In A Walk on the Wild Side" (1962) is a flash back to the 1930s, a picturesque novel of New Orleans bohemian lifestyle. Algren diverted his attention from writing novels to a more active role in journalism in 1959; he continued to publish short stories throughout this period. His final novel, "The Devil's Stocking" (1979), was continuously rejected by publishers until it was published posthumously in 1983.

Nelson Algren also wrote some non-fiction: the prose poem "Chicago, City on the Make" (1951), sketches titled "Who Lost an American?" (1963), and "Notes from a Sea Diary: Hemingway All the Way" (1965). Algren was elected to the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters in 1981, three months before he died.

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn Richard Wright papers, 1927-1978 Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
creatorOf Conroy, Jack, 1898-1990. Jack Conroy papers, 1924-1991. Newberry Library
creatorOf Mitgang, Herbert. Herbert Mitgang collection of papers, 1967-1975. New York Public Library System, NYPL
creatorOf WBBM (Radio station : Chicago, Ill.). WBBM Radio miscellaneous scripts and editorials, 1947, 1975, 1982-1983. Chicago History Museum
referencedIn Burack, A. S. (Abraham Saul), 1908-. Abraham Burack collection, 1922-1997. Boston University. School of Medicine
referencedIn Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc. records, 1899-2003, 1945-1989 New York Public Library. Manuscripts and Archives Division
referencedIn Farallon Island Publishing Co. Farallon Island Publishing Co. records, 1960-1977. Stanford University. Department of Special Collections and University Archives
referencedIn Arna Bontemps Papers, 1927-1968 Syracuse University. Library. Special Collections Research Center
creatorOf Algren, Nelson, 1909-1981. Nelson Algren short stories and postcard, 1949-1972. Newberry Library
referencedIn Popadić, Mirko,. Studs on a soapbox raw, [videorecording], 2000 Oct. 25. Media Burn Independent Video Archive
creatorOf Algren, Nelson, 1909-1981. Nelson Algren papers, 1960-1975. Newberry Library
referencedIn Spiegel, Clara Gatzert, 1904-1997. Clara G. Spiegel-Ernest Hemingway Family papers, 1939-1988. Newberry Library
creatorOf Newberry Library. Special Collections Section. Modern Manuscripts Collection correspondence, 1945-1969. Newberry Library
creatorOf Crowell-Collier Publishing Company. Crowell-Collier Publishing Company records, 1931-1955. New York Public Library System, NYPL
referencedIn Deutch, Stephen. Stephen Deutch papers, ca. 1981-1997. Chicago History Museum
referencedIn Harmon, Lily, 1912-. Lily Harmon papers, 1930-1996. Archives of American Art
creatorOf Algren, Nelson, 1909-1981. Papers, [ca.1930-1979]. State Library of Ohio
referencedIn Crowell-Collier Publishing Company records, 1931-1955 New York Public Library. Manuscripts and Archives Division
creatorOf Algren, Nelson, 1909-1981. Salomon and Morris : two patriots of the Revolution : typescript [between 1936 and 1942?]. University of South Carolina, System Library Service, University Libraries
referencedIn Conroy, Jack, 1899-. Papers, 1947-1981. Southern Illinois University, Morris Library
creatorOf Hills, L. Rust. Letter : Esquire, 488 Madison Ave., New York, N.Y. to Candida Donadio, Herb Jaffe Associates, 141 E. 55 St., New York, N.Y., 1959 Sept. 25. University of South Carolina, System Library Service, University Libraries
creatorOf Terkel, Studs, 1912-2008. Studs Terkel with Nelson Algren, [videorecording], 1975. Media Burn Independent Video Archive
creatorOf Algren, Nelson, 1909-1981. Letter : 1958 W. Evergreen, Chicago, Ill., to Barbara Turner, Sausalito, Calif., 1960 Oct. 2. University of South Carolina, System Library Service, University Libraries
referencedIn Vogel, Joseph. Jack Conroy day : Moberly, Missouri, 1984 May 22. Ohio State University Libraries
referencedIn Vanguard Press Records, ca.1925-ca.1985 Columbia University. Rare Book an Manuscript Library
creatorOf Algren, Nelson, 1909-1981. [Periodical contributions by and about Nelson Algren] Indiana University
referencedIn Terkel, Studs, 1912-2008,. Studs Terkel interview, [videorecording], 1990s. Media Burn Independent Video Archive
creatorOf Cowley, Malcolm, 1898-1989. Malcolm Cowley papers, 1911-1990. Newberry Library
referencedIn Terkel, Studs, 1912-2008. Nelson Algren : an appreciation : typescript, 1973 / [Studs Terkel]. University of South Carolina, System Library Service, University Libraries
referencedIn Black, Timuel D. A celebration of the life of Studs Terkel, [videorecording], 2009 Jan. 30. Media Burn Independent Video Archive
creatorOf Algren, Nelson, 1909-1981. Letters to William Targ [manuscript], 1943-1961. University of Virginia. Library
referencedIn Esquire, Inc. Records, 1933-1977 Bentley Historica Library University of Michigan
referencedIn Manuscript (periodical) Records, 1933-1937 Syracuse University. Library. Special Collections Research Center
referencedIn Richard Wright papers, 1927-1978. Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
creatorOf Genet, Jean, 1910-1986. Our lady of the flowers, 1973. Ohio State University Libraries
referencedIn Granville Hicks Papers, 1906-1980 Syracuse University. Library. Special Collections Research Center
referencedIn Brookhouser, Frank, 1912-1975. Papers, 1929-1975. Temple University Libraries, Paley Library
creatorOf Algren, Nelson, 1909-1981. Letters, 1972-1974. University of South Carolina, System Library Service, University Libraries
referencedIn United States. Work Projects Administration. United States Work Projects Administration records, 1524-1975 (bulk 1935-1942). Library of Congress
creatorOf Wolf, Tommy, 1925-1979. House of a hundred grassfires : a musical based on the novel "A walk on the wild side"/ by Nelson Algren ; book by Nelson Algren, David Peltz & Jim Sagebiel ; lyrics by Nelson Algren ; music by Tommy Wolf. HCL Technical Services, Harvard College Library
creatorOf Algren, Nelson, 1909-1981. Chinatown : a novel of suspense / by Nelson Algren. Chicago Public Library, Harold Washington Library Center
referencedIn Drew, Bettina, 1956-. Nelson Algren archive of Bettina Drew, ca. 1933-1989. Ohio State University Libraries
referencedIn Albert Halper papers, 1909-1984, 1933-1982 New York Public Library. Manuscripts and Archives Division
referencedIn Herbert Mitgang collection of papers, 1950-1986 The New York Public Library. Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection of English and American Literature.
creatorOf Farrar, Straus, and Giroux. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc. records, 1899-2003 (bulk 1945-1989). New York Public Library System, NYPL
referencedIn Gertrude Abercrombie papers Archives of American Art
creatorOf Engle, Paul, 1908-1991. Paul Engle papers, 1930-1991. Coe College, Stewart Memorial Library
creatorOf Ciardi, John, 1916-1986. Letter, ca. 1954, Bound Brook, New York, to Nelson [Algren?] [manuscript]. University of Virginia. Library
referencedIn John Tebbel Papers, 1936-1985 Syracuse University. Library. Special Collections Research Center
referencedIn Bettina Drew Papers on Nelson Algren, 1890s-1989 Ohio State University. Libraries. Rare Books and Manuscripts Library.
referencedIn New Yorker records, ca.1924-1984 New York Public Library. Manuscripts and Archives Division
creatorOf Bracker, Jon, 1936-. Letters, 1965-1970. Indiana University
creatorOf Gertrude Abercrombie papers Archives of American Art
creatorOf Halper, Albert, 1904-1984. Albert Halper papers, 1909-1984, bulk (1933-1982). New York Public Library System, NYPL
creatorOf Algren, Nelson, 1909-1981. Thanks for asking my opinion : [typescript] ... / Nelson Algren, [between 1966 and 1967]. University of South Carolina, System Library Service, University Libraries
referencedIn Carolina Symposium. Records of the Carolina Symposium, 1927- 1986. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
referencedIn Vanguard Press. Vanguard Press Records, ca. 1925-ca. 1985. Columbia University in the City of New York, Columbia University Libraries
creatorOf Algren, Nelson, 1909-1981. TM (copy). Cornell University Library
referencedIn United States Work Projects Administration Records, 1524-1975, (bulk 1935-1942) Library of Congress. Manuscript Division
creatorOf Algren, Nelson, 1909-1981. [Nelson Algren manuscript, published article, and two photographs], [1975?] Newberry Library
creatorOf Algren, Nelson, 1909-1981. The Nelson Algren collection, 1933-1999. Chicago Public Library, Harold Washington Library Center
creatorOf Algren, Nelson, 1909-1981. Papers, 1920-1983. Ohio State University Libraries
referencedIn Records of the Army Staff, 1903 - 2009. Official Military Personnel Files, 1912 - 1998 National Archives at St. Louis
Relation Name
associatedWith Abercrombie, Gertrude, 1909-1977. person
associatedWith Beauvoir, Simone de, 1908-1986. person
associatedWith Bontemps, Arna, 1902-1973 person
associatedWith Boyle, Kay, 1902-1992. person
associatedWith Bracker, Jon, 1936- person
associatedWith Bradley, Van Allen, 1913-1984. person
associatedWith Brookhouser, Frank, 1912-1975. person
correspondedWith Burack, A. S. (Abraham Saul), 1908- person
associatedWith Carolina Symposium. corporateBody
associatedWith Ciardi, John, 1916-1986. person
associatedWith Conroy, Jack, 1899- person
associatedWith Cowley, Malcolm, 1898-1989. person
associatedWith Crowell-Collier Publishing Company. corporateBody
associatedWith Deutch, Stephen. person
associatedWith Donadio and Associates. corporateBody
associatedWith Drew, Bettina, 1956- person
associatedWith Engle, Paul, 1908-1991. person
associatedWith Esquire, Inc. corporateBody
associatedWith Farallon Island Publishing Co. corporateBody
associatedWith Farrar, Straus, and Giroux. corporateBody
associatedWith Farrell, James T. (James Thomas), 1904-1979. person
associatedWith Geismar, Maxwell David, 1909- person
associatedWith Gellhorn, Martha, 1908- person
associatedWith Genet, Jean, 1910-1986. person
associatedWith Gobeil-Trudeau, Madeleine. person
associatedWith Halper, Albert, 1904-1984. person
associatedWith Harmon, Lily, 1912- person
associatedWith Hemingway, Ernest, 1899-1961. person
associatedWith Hicks, Granville, 1901-1982 person
correspondedWith Hills, L. Rust. person
associatedWith Ingersoll and Brennan. corporateBody
associatedWith Kogan, Herman. person
associatedWith Manuscript (Athens, Ohio) corporateBody
associatedWith McCollum Collection. corporateBody
associatedWith McCollum Collection. corporateBody
associatedWith McCollum, Kenneth G. person
associatedWith Midwest Manuscript Collection (Newberry Library) corporateBody
associatedWith Midwest Manuscript Collection (Newberry Library) corporateBody
associatedWith Miller, Nolan, 1907-2006. person
associatedWith Mitgang, Herbert person
associatedWith Mitgang, Herbert. person
associatedWith Newberry Library. corporateBody
associatedWith Newberry Library. Special Collections Section. corporateBody
correspondedWith New Yorker Magazine, Inc corporateBody
associatedWith Sandburg, Carl, 1878-1967. person
associatedWith Saroyan, William, 1908-1981. person
associatedWith Spiegel, Clara Gatzert, 1904-1997. person
associatedWith Targ, William, 1907- person
associatedWith Tebbel, John William, 1912- person
associatedWith Terkel, Studs, 1912-2008. person
memberOf United States. Army corporateBody
associatedWith United States. Work Projects Administration. corporateBody
associatedWith Vanguard Press. corporateBody
associatedWith Vogel, Joseph. person
associatedWith WBBM (Radio station : Chicago, Ill.) corporateBody
associatedWith Weissner, Carl. person
associatedWith Wells, Joel. person
associatedWith Wolf, Tommy, 1925-1979. person
associatedWith Wright, Richard, 1908-1960. person
Place Name Admin Code Country
Detroit MI US
Sag Harbor NY US
Subject
American literature
Authors, American
Authors, American
Short stories, American
Bohemianism
Manuscripts, American
Neo
Vietnam War, 1961-1975
Occupation
American author
Writer
Activity

Person

Birth 1909-03-28

Death 1981-05-09

Male

Americans

English

Information

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Ark ID: w6kp81vn

SNAC ID: 3653126