I’ve been going through all my old Nelson Algren files to give to Colin Asher. He recently landed a contract to write Algren’s biography for Norton — that’s W.W. Norton & Co. (one of the last big indie publishers, and a great one, too). My files include all sorts of primary documents, among them a recording of the memorial tribute to Nelson that Studs Terkel organized at Second City on June 29, 1981, not long after Nelson died. Studs arranged the program, emceed the event, and concluded the evening by reading this excerpt from Nelson’s Chicago: City on the Make, a poem in prose that both slaps the town in the face and plants a big wet kiss on it. Enjoy!
I suppose I should mention my reason for gathering those files. It’s simple. I met Nelson and afterward became his friend. Then, when Nelson died, Studs urged me to write his biography; as did Candida Donadio, Algren’s agent and confidant; as did Stephen Deutch, a dear friend of mine, and (with Studs) Nelson’s oldest and closest friend; as did Kay Boyle, one of Nelson’s staunchest champions; as did Herman Kogan, another of his early and most-devoted advocates; as did various others, including three other Chicago journalists, M.W. Newman, Henry Kisor, and John Blades. But Bettina Drew beat me to it. So I put my files aside. I always hoped, though, that some day they would be useful. And now that Colin has embarked on his projected biography, I believe they will be — at last.
Have a look at Nelson’s inscription in a copy of Chicago: City on the Make that he gave me. (It’s from the 1961 Angel Island reprint edition dedicated to Joan Baez with photographs by Stephen Deutch.) I don’t know how many he signed like this for others, probably several. But I cherish the gift as unique, especially for the illustration of his wit. (e.g.: “I was adamant. He was adamanter.”)