Nelson Algren biographer to reveal what FBI had on famous author

A mural depicting Nelson Algren ducking out of a liquor store in the Nelson Algren Pocket Park in Gary's Miller neighborhood. It's on the side of Lake Street Liquors, near the Nelson Algren Museum, which is hosting an Algren biographer in April.

The Nelson Algren Museum in Gary's Miller neighborhood is offering tours and planning an event with Algren biographer Colin Asher, who's turned up in his research much of Algren's massive FBI file, which was nearly three times as long as the average novel.

Asher, whose book "Never a Lovely So, Real" will be published in April, will speak at the museum at 541 S. Lake St. at 7 p.m. April 26. The instructor at City University of New York, a 2015/2016 Fellow at the Leon Levy Center for Biography, will give a talk revealing what the Federal Bureau of Investigation had on Algren, the National Book Award-winning author of "The Man with the Golden Arm," a tale of despair and drug addiction that was adapted into a movie with Frank Sinatra.

Algren is often thought of as a Chicago author, but he split his time between the city and a lake house he bought in Miller with the proceeds from "The Man with the Golden Arm," where he famously had a tryst with the celebrated French writer and philosopher Simone de Beauvoir.

Asher has been working for years on the biography, whose title alludes to Algren's famous quote about Chicago in "Chicago: City on the Make:" “Like loving a woman with a broken nose, you may well find lovelier lovelies. But never a lovely so real."

He set out to write a definitive biography that "reclaims Nelson Algren as a towering literary figure and finally unravels the enigma of his disappearance from American letters.

"For a time, Nelson Algren was America’s most famous author, lauded by the likes of Richard Wright and Ernest Hemingway. Millions bought his books. But despite Algren’s talent, he abandoned fiction and fell into obscurity. The cause of his decline was never clear. Some said he drank his talent away; others cited writer’s block," publisher W. W. Norton & Company said in a product description on Amazon. "The truth, hidden in the pages of his books, is far more complicated and tragic. Now, almost 40 years after Algren’s death, Colin Asher finally captures the full, novelistic story of his life in a magisterial biography set against mid-20th-Century American politics and culture. Drawing from interviews, archival correspondence, and the most complete version of Algren’s 886-page FBI file ever released, Colin Asher portrays Algren as a dramatic iconoclast."

Asher has written for publications like The Believer, the Los Angeles Review of Books, the Boston Globe, and the San Francisco Chronicle.

He's the latest writer to visit the museum, which recently hosted Rolling Stone Magazine scribe Anthony DeCurtis for a retrospective on Lou Reed, who named his most famous song after Algren's novel "Walk on the Wild Side."

Nelson Algren Museum of Miller Beach also offers tours that include a streetside view of Algren's cabin.

For more information or to schedule a tour, contact founder Sue Rutsen at 773-914-2574 or suerutsen@comcast.net.


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Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.