Sunday, January 17, 2010

Nelson Algren

"The intensity of his feeling, the accuracy of his thought, make me wonder if any other writer of our time has shown us more exactly the human basis of our democracy. Though Algren often defines his positive values by showing us what happens in their absence, his hell burns with passion for heaven."

Thank you, New York Times, for my lead-in. Deeply important to my father, I heard about Nelson Algren long before I ever had the chance to read him. By 1989, all of his work was out of print. And without a copy at our local library or in our house, that was pretty much it for me. It's painful to have to remember days before the internet.

Studs Terkel, Warren Leming and others founded the Nelson Algren Committee to commemorate their friend, in part, by restoring his legacy. Everything of his was rightfully put back into print. Neon Wilderness was my primer, first purchased at our downtown store. Subsequent gift copies, along with Never Come Morning and The Man With The Golden Arm, came later. It is hard to talk about why I love him, only to repeat that I do over and over until asked to leave the room. 

"not walls, nor men / brutal, remote, stunned, querulous, weak or cold / do crimes so massive, but the hideous face / stands guilty: the usurpation of man over man."

Algren is significant. Like Twain, like Vonnegut, I read Algren and read about how to live. Amidst private and public failures, neglect and despair, ruin and isolation but to go on, with hate, love, anger, humor, charged with the collective responsibility of other foundlings. It's like a tribe of outsider founding fathers, strangers to the country whose ideals they advance and make legend, even as their countrymen drift towards another future.

No comments: