Mar 212012

The Nelson Algren Committee hosts the 23rd  annual Nelson Algren Birthday Party

If you have never attended this event, this may be your last chance to partake in it so you can say “I, too, am a supporter of Nelson Algren’s talent!”

Featuring Delphine Pontvieux who, for the past couple of years, read excerpts from novels and letters from French writer and philosopher Simone de Beauvoir, who was Nelson Algren’s passionate love. Signed copies of her novel “ETA-estimated Time of Arrest” will be sold on location.

Saturday, March 24

8 PM

at the Wicker Park Arts Center, 2215 W. North Avenue in Chicago.

The party celebrates the novelist and essayist who captured the reality of urban America with a cool eye and a compassionate heart, as seen in such masterpieces as The Man with the Golden ArmNeon Wilderness and Chicago: City on the Make.

The party features a rich, eclectic and one-of-a-kind blend of presentations, poetry, music and performance, as well as Algren tributes and commentary.

From Philadelphia comes award-winning writer/photographer Linh Dinh, while dissident psychologist and author Bruce Levine joins us from Cincinnati and scholar Mike Jones treks in from Connecticut to discuss Algren’s continuing relevance. On the music front, legendary boogie-woogie pianist Erwin Helfer graces our stage once again, as do folksinger Bucky Halker and singer/songwriter Kristin Lems. Guitarist John Garvey backs up Warren Leming in a reading from City on the Make, while photographer Ron Seymour displays rarely seen Algren pictures. The poetry contingent includes Charlie NewmanSteve SchroederWayne Allen Jones and Bob Katzman, proprietor of Skokie’s Magazine Museum. Musician and critic Richard Wyszynski talks about the Chicago of Algren and his buddy Studs Terkel, a founder of the Algren Committee. Mark Twain will be channeled by actor Richard Henzel, linking Algren to his American literary roots. Simone de Beauvoir, the love of Algren’s life, will be present via a spirited reading of her work by novelist Delphine Pontvieux.

The event also honors community members who display a “conscience in touch with humanity,” while flying under the media radar. This year’s recipients of the coveted Nelson Algren Committee Award are veteran scholar/activist Elliot Zashin and historical researcher and re-enactor extraordinaire Paul Durica.

Admission is $10 at the door, $7 for seniors and students with ID. Drink tickets are available to those wishing to toast Algren; complimentary snacks, related books and merchandise, and a door prize drawing add to the fun. Committee members Warren Leming and Hugh Iglarsh attempt to MC the madness, ably assisted by fellow members Nina GaspichCharlie Newman and Kurt Jacobsen.

We note with sadness that this is the swansong for the Algren Birthday Party at the Wicker Park Arts Center, as the historic St. Paul’s Church has been sold out from under the Near Northwest Arts Council (NNWAC), which operates the center. It represents another loss of precious public space in a neighborhood struggling to retain its artistic soul. We are grateful for the longtime support of NNWAC Director Laura Weathered and of WPB, the Special Service Area for the Wicker Park and Bucktown neighborhoods.

The night ends with a rousing “Happy Birthday” sung to Algren, who entered the world in 1909 and departed from it in 1981, leaving behind a singular body of work and an enduring influence on succeeding generations. When the Committee started, not long after Algren’s death, his books were mostly out of print and his presence almost unmarked in the city he made his life’s work. Now Algren is commemorated with a fountain and plaque, and he’s been inducted into the inaugural class of the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame. But none of his titles been included in the city’s “One Book, One Chicago” program, and he remains in a limbo of partial and grudging acceptance even in his hometown. The Committee’s work goes on.