Event—Public Programming

Algren, A Life


Mary Wisniewski

Listen to the audio of this program.

Algren, A Life is the definitive biography of Nelson Algren, one of the best-known writers of mid-twentieth-century America. Chicago journalist Mary Wisniewski interviewed dozens of Algren's inner circle, including photographer Art Shay and the late Studs Terkel, and examined Algren's unpublished writing and correspondence, including hundreds of letters he received from lover Simone de Beauvoir, to craft an account as entertaining as it is meticulously researched. Algren reveals new details about the writer's life, work, personality, and habits, digging beneath the street-crawling man's man stereotype to show a funny, sensitive, and romantic but self-destructive artist. Wisniewski shows how, initially celebrated then savaged by literary critics for his continued preoccupation with prostitutes and drug addicts in his fiction, Algren was haunted by insecurity about his work and practically gave up writing fiction after 1956, and how he finally found a sense of community and acceptance in the artist colony of Sag Harbor before his death in 1981. This fresh look at the man whose tough but humorous style and compassionate message enchanted readers and fellow writers and whose boyish charm seduced many women is indispensable to anyone interested in twentieth-century American literature.

After her talk, Ms. Wisniewski will sign copies of the book in the Newberry lobby. Algren, A Life will be available for purchase in the Newberry Bookstore. Your purchase helps to support the Newberry Library, and this program's featured author.

Download a PDF flyer for this program to post and distribute, and explore materials related to Nelson Algren in the Newberry Collection.

Mary Wisniewski, a reporter at the Chicago Tribune and former Reuters investigative reporter, covers Midwest crime and politics. Previously a columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times and a reporter for Chicago Lawyer, Ms. Wisniewski has won numerous awards for reporting. She also has taught creative writing and published literary reviews. She is an active participant in the Nelson Algren Committee, is past president of the Chicago Headline Club, and appears frequently on local television and radio.

Nelson Algren held a fellowship at the Newberry Library during the time he wrote The Man with the Golden Arm, and the Newberry collection includes some of his papers, including typescripts of three of his works. Mary Wisniewski did part of her research for Algren at the Newberry.

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