But Never a Lovely So Real…

<em>Author portrait of Nelson Algren, circa 1949, by Robert McCullough Image courtesy of the Library of Congress</em>
Believer Magazine

[For Todd… DS]

Despite His Literary Brilliance and Humanist Resolve, Nelson Algren Was the Type of Loser This Country Just Can’t Stomach

Nelson Algren was the son of a no-luck working stiff and the grandson of a religious zealot turned grifter, and he was a type of loser we can’t stomach in this country. Algren made his living as a writer for forty years, occasionally to great acclaim. At the height of his career, wealth, leisure, and the lasting respect of his peers were on offer, but Algren shrugged at those prospects and kept going his own way. For Algren, the decision was as much a question of constitution as it was of rational choice, and he paid for it dearly. America has always been able to countenance beggars, short-con men, and nine-to-fivers who just can’t get ahead, but we’ve never known what to do with the type of person who could have been really big but chose not to make the concessions required.

Algren wrote eleven books in his lifetime: one polemical, amateurish, and overwritten; five brilliant; one bitter, satirical, and unfocused; and four very good; more or less in that order. From the publication of his first book, in 1935, until his death, in 1981, every word Algren wrote was guided by the belief that writing can be literature only if intended as a challenge to authority. He didn’t compromise that position… More here

One Comment

Thank you, Dave. What an epic life Algren lived. Inspiring!