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Algren at 100

Today is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Nelson Algren, my hero and anti-hero, who was born in Detroit on March 28, 1909. Donna Seaman has a concise overview of the great man's career over at Booklist. For the initiate, I'd suggest you pick up his greatest novel, The Man With the Golden Arm, or his prose piece Chicago: City on the Make, which is the one book of his that I keep returning to again and again, and which I'm convinced is the best thing he ever wrote.

Algren would undoubtedly have a bemused chuckle at his centenary passing without a peep of official recognition from his home city, which right now is otherwise preoccupied with hastily filling the countless potholes and otherwise gussying things up for the arrival of Olympic committee muckamucks. The city, desperate as always to overcome its self-perceived secondary status, is throwing itself (and untold billions of dollars) at the world, as obsessed with its self-image as it was in the days when it ostracized Algren for daring to present Chicago as it really was.

Hoist a glass today to Chicago's greatest writer and one of America's most unappreciated literary talents. I'll be hoisting several.

Update: Jeff McMahon has an excellent Algren essay at Newcity. Very well done.

March 28, 2009 in Books, Chicago Observations | Permalink