The Nelson Algren Committee hosted the 22nd annual Nelson Algren Birthday Party last night at the Wicker Park Arts Center, 2215 W. North Avenue in Chicago’s Wicker Park/Bucktown neighborhood, the center of Algren’s fictional world. The Party is an entertaining and edifying tribute to the National Book Award-winning author of The Man with the Golden Arm, The Neon Wilderness, Chicago: City on the Make and other works that reveal Chicago from the bottom up.
The event also celebrates community artists and activists whose work reflects Algren’s own feisty compassion. This year’s recipients of the Nelson Algren Committee Award include artist, organizer and free speech crusader Chris Drew, neighborhood writer, performer and educator Maritza Nazario, media reformer Scott Sanders, and humane animal husbandry and food safety advocate Richard Wood.
As always, the party featured a wide range of poetry and performance. This year’s edition included (among others) Algren scholar Mike Jones from the University of Connecticut; noted local poets Michael C. Watson, Gregorio Gomez and Paul Friedrich; musician/memoirist/screenwriter Josh Friedman, who talked about Algren’s friendship with his father, humorist Bruce Jay Friedman; hobo scholar and historic re-enactor Paul Durica; legendary blues and stride pianist Erwin Helfer; activist and writer Maureen Murphy, a victim (as was Algren) of FBI harassment; Franco-American novelist Delphine Pontvieux, who read from the letters of feminist philosopher Simone de Beauvoir to her beloved Nelson; music from the band Friends of Chloe (and others), and performance by veteran Chicago actors Gary Houston and Richard Henzel. In addition, the group celebrated Algren’s induction into the first “class” of the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame and, as always, saluted his entry into the world (or at least Detroit, where he was born 102 years ago) with treats and a rousing rendition of Sto Lat, the Polish birthday song.
Committee members Warren Leming and Hugh Iglarsh MC’ed this year’s event, ably assisted by members Nina Gaspich, Alice Prus, Charlie Newman and Kurt Jacobsen. When the Committee started in the late 1980s, just a few years after Algren’s death, his work was out of print. In 2011, his books are available (even in the Chicago Public Library, which once took Never Come Morning off the shelves), he’s commemorated with a plaque and a fountain, City on the Make has recently been dramatized, and a movie starring Johnny Depp is reportedly in the works. But he is still under-read, under-appreciated and under the radar – as illustrated by the fact that he has never been included in the city’s “One Book, One Chicago” program – and the Committee’s work goes on. For updates and more information, visit the Web site at www.nelsonalgren.org or call the Algren Hotline at (773) 235-4267. (text written by H.Iglarsh)
Here’s the article that came out in the Reader:
from the Red Eye blog: