A Life
By Mary Wisniewski


384 Pages, 6 x 9

Formats: Cloth, EPUB, PDF, Mobipocket

Cloth, $30.00 (US $30.00) (CA $40.00)

ISBN 9781613735329

Rights: WOR

Chicago Review Press (Oct 2016)


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The first examination of Nelson Algren in over 25 years, Algren is the definitive biography of one of the best-known writers of mid-20th-century America. 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dozens of Algren’s inner circle, including photographer Art Shay and the late Studs Terkel, and examined Algren’s unpublished writing and correspondence, including hundreds of letters he received from lover Simone de Beauvoir, to craft an account as entertaining as it is meticulously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 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. This fresh look at the man whose tough but humorous style and compassionate message enchanted readers and fellow writers is indispensable to anyone interested in 20th-century American literature.


“Mary Wisniewski has written a captivating biography of Nelson Algren, rife with the soul, passion, and grit that made Chicago a ‘city on the make’ and Algren its greatest poet. For those who have loved the town and the writer who made it his ‘trade,’ here, at last, is the book you've waited for.” —Warren Leming, cofounder, Nelson Algren Committee of Chicago

“It's good to have the irascible, bohemian chronicler of the streets back via this top-notch biography.” —Kirkus Reviews

"Mary Wisniewski's Algren: A Life is an immensely readable portrait of the great but problematic Chicago writer. Exquisitely reported, sympathetic but clear-eyed, it's about the most complete account of his life and work I've seen. Wisniewski has a great sense of detail, and a wonderfully candid voice." —Achy Obejas, author of Days of Awe

"Nelson Algren was surely one of the most important post-World War II novelists in America, and his life and work are even more relevant today than they were in the 1940s and '50s, when he was at the peak of his popularity. . . . This new biography goes a long way toward redeeming both his life and his art. His novels and stories should be required reading in every American college syllabus. This excellent biography tells us why." —Russell Banks, author of Rule of the Bone and Cloudsplitter

“We also learn how, as tough as he famously was, Algren was vulnerable to the same sensitivities and bouts of self-doubt that plague all writers. He was always one of us. Post-Wisniewski, he may be even more so.” —Chicago Tribune

"Algren is a welcome addition to the literature on Nelson Algren's life and work. In fact the strength of Algren is the way that Wisniewski integrates Algren's working life with his personal life. This thankfully is not yet another biography of a writer that ignores the writing." —Stuart Dybek, author of The Coast of Chicago

“A powerful piece of biography.” —Houston Press

“With this comprehensive biography, Wisniewski, award-winning journalist for the Chicago Tribune, has done sterling work toward restoring Nelson Algren … to his position of prominence as a celebrated author.” —Publishers Weekly

Author Biography

Mary Wisniewski is a reporter at the Chicago Tribune and former Reuters investigative reporter covering Midwest crime and politics.Previously a columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times and a reporter for Chicago Lawyer, Wisniewski has won numerous awards for reporting. She is an active participant in the Nelson Algren Committee and past president of the Chicago Headline Club. She lives in Chicago.