Episode 24: Colin Asher on Nelson Algren

AWM Author Talks
AWM Author Talks
Episode 24: Colin Asher on Nelson Algren

Today, we discuss the legacy of Nelson Algren with Colin Asher, author of the biography Never A Lovely So Real: The Life and Work of Nelson Algren. This was originally recorded live at the American Writers Museum June 25th, 2019. Quick note: the end of this podcast episode includes a Q&A with the live audience, however their questions were not recorded. We did want to include Colin’s answers though, so we have.

We hope you enjoy entering the mind of a writer.


“One of the things that interested me most about Algren was the way he thought about writing. Algren is a person who thought a lot about the purpose of writing and its social function. That really drew me to his work.”

“Chicago, he realized, was…a place so in love with the idea of its virtue that it was willing to disavow, in the name of the common good, anyone who failed to meet its narrow and exacting standards. It had great symbolic value for that reason. And Nelson decided that using his work to undermine that image would be more impactful.”

“[Algren] had things to say about the 30s and the 40s that were so fully realized that they apply today. He was writing about income inequality. He was writing about criminal justice issues. In the 40s he was writing about the opioid epidemic that started after the war, where people were trying to escape this sort of new, emerging late-capitalist reality and feeling adrift. And all of those things we’re still wrestling with.”

“[Algren] could’ve used his GI benefits to purchase a home on the edge of the city with no money down but instead he returned to his old neighborhood and looked for an apartment where he could work without distraction.”

“How to write is a less meaningful question than why. Literature must challenge authority and defy demagoguery. It is born in fidelity to the truth and crumbles into incoherence in its absence.”

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