Our Stranger Than Fiction author, Mary Wisniewski, joined us to talk about her book, Algren: A Life, shortly after it’s release. The first biography of Nelson Algren in 25 years, it was the Chicago Writers Association Book of the Year and won the Society of Midland Authors Literary Award in Biography. It was published in 2017.
Nelson Algren’s old neighborhood is one subway stop away from the Author’s Voice studio. I thought it might be fun to share a little bit of his Chicago story.
Algren wrote about the seamy side of life. Some of his best work is set in the crowded and tough neighborhood around Little Polonia.
Never Come Morning was published in 1942. With unflinching accounts of violent street crime, murder, and rape, the raw stories left the locals deeply insulted. Mayor Ed Kelly banned Never Come Morning from the shelves of the Chicago Public Library later that year. The ban lasted 20 years.
The Man With the Golden Arm and Chicago, A City on the Make did nothing to quiet that anger. The Chicago Tribune was especially brutal, calling Chicago, A City on the Make a “highly-scented object.” It would never matter that The Man With the Golden Arm won the 1950 National Book Award and became a movie with Frank Sinatra a few years later.
Algren quit Chicago in 1975. He held an epic garage sale and left. He’d become smitten with Patterson, NJ and the wrongful murder conviction of boxer, Rubin “Hurricane” Carter. He was also broke. He died on Long Island in 1981.
Almost 20 years after his death, the city wanted to honor Nelson Algren. Chicago was embracing her history now, instead of running from it. This was about the same time the city fell in love with Louis Sullivan, too. The plan was to change the name of Polonia Triangle to Nelson Algren Triangle. The neighbors fought hard, the old timers still hated him and the new, mostly Hispanic residents said “Who”? In typical Chicago style a deal was reached. The Nelson Algren fountain is part of the Polonia Triangle today.
Mary Wisniewski is the transportation reporter and Getting Around columnist for the Tribune. She joined the Tribune in 2016 after stints as a general news reporter at Reuters. She is one of the best writers in the city. She finds great stories and she tells them well. Recently, she reported on what might become of the Polish Triangle and the state of the Nelson Algren Fountain. Read her story.
–M. Sylvia Castle
Watch Mary Wisniewski’s Interview…