Nelson Algren (Novelist) – Overview, Biography

Name:Nelson Algren
Occupation: Novelist
Birth Day: March 28,
Death Date:May 9, 1981 (age 72)
Age: Aged 72
Country: United States
Zodiac Sign:Aries

Nelson Algren

Nelson Algren was born on March 28, 1909 in United States (72 years old). Nelson Algren is a Novelist, zodiac sign: Aries. Nationality: United States. Approx. Net Worth: Undisclosed.


He was a three-time O Henry Award winner for his short stories “A Bottle of Milk for Mother,” “The Captain is Impaled,” and “The Brother’s House.”

Net Worth 2020

Find out more about Nelson Algren net worth here.

Does Nelson Algren Dead or Alive?

As per our current Database, Nelson Algren died on May 9, 1981 (age 72).


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Before Fame

He graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with a degree in journalism and subsequently worked for a local paper. He published his debut novel, Somebody in Boots, in 1935.


Biography Timeline


Algren was educated in Chicago’s public schools, graduated from Hibbard High School (now Roosevelt High School) and went on to study at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, graduating with a Bachelor of Science in journalism during the Great Depression in 1931. During his time at the University of Illinois, he wrote for the Daily Illini student newspaper.


Algren wrote his first story, “So Help Me”, in 1933, while he was in Texas working at a gas station. Before returning to Chicago, he was caught stealing a typewriter from an empty classroom at Sul Ross State University in Alpine. He boarded a train for his getaway but was apprehended and returned to Alpine. He was held in jail for nearly five months and faced a possible additional three years in prison. He was released, but the incident made a deep impression on him. It deepened his identification with outsiders, has-beens, and the general failures who later populated his fictional world.


In 1935 Algren won the first of his three O. Henry Awards for his short story, “The Brother’s House.” The story was first published in Story magazine and was reprinted in an anthology of O. Henry Award winners.

Algren won his first O. Henry Award for his short story “The Brother’s House” (published in Story Magazine) in 1935. His short stories “A Bottle of Milk for Mother (Biceps)” (published in the Southern Review) and “The Captain is Impaled” (Harper’s Magazine) were O. Henry Award winners in 1941 and 1950, respectively. None of the stories won the first, second or third place awards but were included in the annual collection of O. Henry Award stories.


Nelson Algren married Amanda Kontowicz in 1937. He had met her at a party celebrating the publication of Somebody in Boots. They eventually would divorce and remarry before divorcing a second and final time.


Algren had an affair with Simone de Beauvoir. The couple summered together in Algren’s cottage in the lake front community of Miller Beach, Indiana, and also traveled to Latin America together in 1949. In her novel The Mandarins (1954), Beauvoir wrote of Algren (who is ‘Lewis Brogan’ in the book):


Algren is best known for his novel The Man With the Golden Arm (1949), which won the National Book Award for Fiction in 1950. The protagonist of the book, Frankie Machine, is an aspiring drummer who is a dealer in illicit card games. Frankie is trapped in demimonde Chicago, having picked up a morphine habit during his brief military service during World War II. He is married to a woman whom he mistakenly believes became crippled in a car accident he caused.


During the 1950s, Algren wished to travel to Paris with his romantic companion, Simone de Beauvoir, but due to government surveillance his passport applications were denied. When he finally did get a passport in 1960, McCarrell concludes that “it was too late. By then the relationship [with de Beauvoir] had changed subtly but decisively.”


In 1965, he met Betty Ann Jones while teaching at the University of Iowa’s Writers Workshop. They married that year and divorced in 1967. According to Kurt Vonnegut, who taught with him at Iowa in 1965, Algren’s “enthusiasm for writing, reading and gambling left little time for the duties of a married man.”


In 1968, he signed the Writers and Editors War Tax Protest pledge, vowing to refuse tax payments in protest against the Vietnam War.


In 1975, Algren was commissioned to write a magazine article about the trial of Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, the prize fighter who had been found guilty of double murder. While researching the article, Algren visited Carter’s hometown of Paterson, New Jersey. Algren was instantly fascinated by the city of Paterson and he immediately decided to move there. In the summer of 1975, Algren sold off most of his belongings, left Chicago, and moved into an apartment in Paterson.

The Devil’s Stocking is Algren’s fictionalized account of the trial of Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, a real-life prize-fighter who had been found guilty of double murder, about whom Algren had written a magazine article for Esquire in 1975. In the book, as a period of unrest within the prison begins, the character ‘Kenyatta’ gives a speech closely mirroring the Fortean Times transcript of the 1977 hoax, and those of other American newspaper reports of the broadcast. The passage in Algren’s book says:


A passage featured in Algren’s book The Devil’s Stocking (1983) was broadcast on TV some six years earlier during the Southern Television hoax in the UK which generated international publicity when students interrupted the regular broadcast through the Hannington transmitter of the Independent Broadcasting Authority for six minutes on November 26, 1977. Issue No. 24 of Fortean Times (Winter 1977) transcribed the hoaxer’s message as:


In 1980, he moved to a house in Sag Harbor, Long Island. Three months before he died of a heart attack at home on May 9, 1981, he was elected to the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. He previously had been awarded the Award of Merit Medal for the novel in 1974 by the National Institute of Arts and Letters, the forerunner to the Academy. (Algren previously had won an Arts and Letters Award in Literature from the Institute in 1947.) In 2010, Algren was inducted into the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame.


Shortly after his death in 1981, his last Chicago residence at 1958 West Evergreen Street was noted by Chicago journalist Mike Royko. The walk-up apartment just east of Damen Avenue in the former Polish Downtown neighborhood of West Town was in an area that had been dominated by Polish immigrants and was once one of Chicago’s toughest and most crowded neighborhoods. The renaming of Evergreen Street to Algren Street caused controversy and was almost immediately reversed.


The article about Carter had grown into a novel, The Devil’s Stocking, which was published posthumously in 1983.


According to Bettina Drew in her 1989 biography Nelson Algren: A Life on the Wild Side, Algren had no desire to serve in the war but was drafted in 1943. An indifferent soldier, he actively dealt on the black market while he was stationed in France. He received a bad beating by some fellow black marketeers.

Studs Terkel, writer Warren Leming, and three others founded the Nelson Algren Committee in 1989. At the time, there was a renewed interest in Algren’s work. Somebody in Boots and Never Come Morning, both long out of print, had been republished in 1987. The first biography of Algren, Bettina Drew’s Nelson Algren: A Life on the Wild Side, was published in 1989 by Putnam. All of Nelson Algren’s words are now back in print.


In September 1996, the book Nonconformity was published by Seven Stories Press, presenting Algren’s view of the difficulties surrounding the 1956 film adaptation of The Man With the Golden Arm. Nonconformity also presents the belief system behind Algren’s writing and a call to writers everywhere to investigate the dark and represent the ignored.


Algren was also honored in 1998 with the Nelson Algren Fountain located in Chicago’s Polish Triangle, in what had been the heart of Polish Downtown, the area that figured as the inspiration for much of his work. Appropriately enough, Division Street, Algren’s favorite street as well as the onetime Polish Broadway, runs right past it.

In 1998, Algren enthusiasts instigated the renaming after Algren of the Polish Triangle in what had been the center of the Polish Downtown. Replacing the plaza’s traditional name, the director of the Polish Museum of America predicted, would obliterate the history of Chicago ethnic Poles and insult ethnic Polish institutions and local businesses. In the end a compromise was reached where the Triangle kept its older name and a newly installed fountain was named after Algren and inscribed with a quotation about the city’s working people protecting its essence, from Algren’s essay “Chicago: City on the Make”.


Seven Stories Press later published the novel fragment Entrapment, along with other unpublished Algren fiction and reportage, as Entrapment and Other Writings in 2009. The Neon Wilderness and The Last Carousel were reprinted by Seven Stories Press and recognized as the Library Journal Editors’ Best Reprints of 1997.


His second novel, Never Come Morning (1942), was described by Andrew O’Hagan in 2019 as “the book that really shows the Algren style in its first great flourishing.” It portrays the dead-end life of a doomed young Polish-American boxer turned criminal. Ernest Hemingway, in a July 8, 1942, letter to his publisher Maxwell Perkins, said of the novel: “I think it very, very good. It is as fine and good stuff to come out of Chicago.” The novel offended members of Chicago’s large Polish-American community, some of whose members denounced it as pro-Axis propaganda. Not knowing that Algren was of partly Jewish descent, some incensed Polish-American Chicagoans said he was pro-Nazi Nordic. His Polish-American critics persuaded Mayor Edward Joseph Kelly to ban the novel from the Chicago Public Library.

🎂 Upcoming Birthday

Currently, Nelson Algren is 113 years, 4 months and 17 days old. Nelson Algren will celebrate 114th birthday on a Tuesday 28th of March 2023.

Find out about Nelson Algren birthday activities in timeline view here.

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