April 2, 2009
In honor of the Nelson Algren centennial, Elizabeth Schulte at SocialistWorker.org has written an in-depth profile of Algren and his work:
Algren was able to write with the voices of the forgotten, the people living on the fringes of society, in a time when no one wanted to hear those voices. In an unpublished manuscript reprinted by Bettina Drew in her biography, A Life on the Wild Side, Algren wrote:
Being a loser I speak only for losers…
Being a loser I speak only for those who leapt or fell, losers being the only ones left with something to say and no one to say it.
All the time, day in and day out, in a city where everyone has to win every round just to stay alive.
Some fans of Algren may romanticize the down-and-out lives he depicted–the addicts, prostitutes and small-time criminals–as the “salt of the earth.” But they would be as wrong as the civic leaders who would have preferred that Algren shut up.
Algren never romanticized the people he wrote about. He wrote with an honesty and understanding that people are more complicated than they are usually portrayed. No one is simply bad or good. Despite that, though, he shows us there is an “us” and a “them.”
Take a look at the newest collection of Algren work, Entrapment and Other Writings, now available from Seven Stories Press.