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Jeff McMahon essay on Nelson Algren

Jeff McMahon essay on Nelson Algren

March 31, 2009

In honor of the 100th birthday of Nelson Algren on March 28, Jeff McMahon of the University of Chicago’s creative writing program has written an in-depth essay for newcity.com about the White Sox, about changing literary fortunes, and about Nelson Algren—a writer, according to McMahon, who’s poised for a major comeback as a canonical force in American literature.

For a time, Algren had outperformed the best American writers. He wrote “The Neon Wilderness,” “The Man with the Golden Arm” and “Chicago, City on the Make” in the span of five years, and then he slipped into a decline so prolonged—thirty years, some reckon—that a reviewer criticized his biographer, Bettina Drew, for subjecting readers to it…

There’s a wave building: In 2003, a panel on Algren was attended by five panelists and one audience member—who had come hoping to learn something about Algren’s lover, Simone de Beauvoir. This February, a similar panel drew eleven. In March, a Columbia College tribute attracted 150. And hundreds are expected to fill the Steppenwolf Theater for a reading of his works April 6. Whenever these events occur, the panelists marvel at Algren’s early brilliance and wonder at his devastating decline—for he began as the poet of the slums and became merely a resident therein.

For the rest of McMahon’s article, check here at newcity.com. And if you’re curious about the two new Algren books McMahon mentions—Entrapment and Algren at Sea—you can learn more about them (and about the rest of Algren’s work) by browsing our Algren backlist—or, for Chicago residents or pilgrims, at the Nelson Algren Live centennial event at the Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago.

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