Nelson Algren was born on March 28, 1909. He was an American writer, best known for The Man with the Golden Arm, which was adapted as the 1955 film of the same name. He was hailed by Ernest Hemingway and others as the leading novelist of the post-World War II era. This led to Algren’s election to the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters a few months before his death in 1981. Today, however, he has been largely forgotten.
Colin Asher, who graduated from Northeastern University in 2009, explores the poignant life of one of America’s great writers in his acclaimed biography Never A Lovely So Real.
“I had been warned that if you write a biography about somebody, you will end up hating them,” says Asher.
“That was not what I found.”
Asher became interested in Algren as a writer when he found that there were incredible parallels between the things Algren observed at the beginning of his career, and what Asher was seeing in America in 2009.
Algren’s ties to the Communist Party were investigated during the “Red Scare” of the 1950s when Senator Joseph McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee led the persecution of Americans who were thought to be friendly to the Soviet Union. Algren was an outspoken critic of McCarthy. This meant that government pressure forced publishers to back away from him and therefore stifle his career.
Asher answers that the reason Algren was forgotten so quickly was that he was relatively uninterested in publicity. He was quiet and mostly focused on his work. He never tried to capitalize on the movie and was interested in just producing more work.
“So he had this moment when he could have really cemented himself in the American imagination, but he wasn’t all that interested. And the politics of the times got in the way,” says Asher.