Nelson Algren Biography

Nelson Algren (March 28, 1909 – May 9, 1981) was an American writer. He may be best known for The Man with the Golden Arm, a 1949 novel that won the National Book Award and was adapted as a 1955 film of the same name.

According to Harold Augenbraum, "in the late 1940s and early 1950s he was one of the best known literary writers in America, lover of Simone de Beauvoir, "hero" of her novel The Mandarins, and so on. He's still a sort of bard of the down-and-outer because of this book and the novel A Walk on the Wild Side (made even more famous by the Lou Reed song)."

Algren was born Nelson Ahlgren Abraham in Detroit, Michigan, the son of Goldie (née Kalisher) and Gerson Abraham. At the age of three he moved with his parents to Chicago, Illinois where they lived in a working-class, immigrant neighborhood on the South Side. His father was the son of a Swedish convert to Judaism, and his mother (who owned a candy store) was of German Jewish descent. As a young child, Algren's family lived at 7139 S. South Park Avenue (now S. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive) in the Greater Grand Crossing section of the South Side. At the age of eight, Algren's family moved from the far South Side to an apartment at 4834 N. Troy Street in the North Side neighborhood of Albany Park. His father worked as an auto mechanic nearby on North Kedzie Avenue.

In one of the few autobiographical sections of his essay Chicago: City on the Make, Algren recalls after moving to Troy Street being teased by neighborhood children because he was a fan of the South Side White Sox, while they were fans of the North Side Chicago Cubs. They discovered his allegiances when he revealed his favorite player to be White Sox shortstop Swede Risberg. This teasing only increased when Risberg and other White Sox players were implicated in the 1920 Black Sox Scandal. Despite going on to spend most of his life on the North Side, Algren remained a White Sox fan into his later years.

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 Illinois, he wrote for the Daily Illini student newspaper.