Nelson Algren's two travel writing books describe his journeys through the seamier sides of great American cities and the international social and political landscapes of the mid-1960s. Algren at Sea brings them together in one volume.
Notes from a Sea Diary offers one of the most remarkable appraisals of Ernest Hemingway ever written. Aboard the freighter Malayasia Mail, Algren ponders his personal encounter with Hemingway in Cuba and the values inherent in Hemingway's stories as he visits the ports of Pusan, Kowloon, Bombay, and Calcutta.
Who Lost an American? is a whirlwind spin through Paris and Playboy clubs, New York publishing and Dublin pubs, Crete and Chicago, as Algren adventures with Simone de Beauvoir, Jean-Paul Sartre, Brendan Behan, and Juliette Gréco.
The struggle to write with deep emotion is the subject of this extraordinary book, the previously unpublished credo of one of America's greatest 20th-century writers.
"You don't write a novel out of sheer pity any more than you blow a safe out of a vague longing to be rich," writes Nelson Algren in his only longer work of nonfiction, adding: "A certain ruthlessness and a sense of alienation from society is as essential to creative writing as it is to armed robbery."
Nonconformity is about 20th-century America: "Never on the earth of man has he lived so tidily as here amidst such psychological disorder." And it is about the trouble writers ask for when they try to describe America: "Our myths are so many, our vision so dim, our self-deception so deep and our smugness so gross that scarcely any way now remains of reporting the American Century except from behind the billboards . . . [where there] are still . . . defeats in which everything is lost [and] victories that fall...
Nelson Algren sought humanity in the urban wilderness of postwar America, where his powerful voice rose from behind the billboards and down tin-can alleys, from among the marginalized and ignored, the outcasts and scapegoats, the punks and junkies, the whores and down-on-their luck gamblers, the punch-drunk boxers and skid-row drunkies and kids who knew they'd never reach the age of twenty-one: all of them admirable in Algren's eyes for their vitality and no-bullshit forthrightness, their insistence on living and their ability to find a laugh and a dream in the unlikeliest places.
In Entrapment and Other Writings--containing his unfinished novel and previously unpublished or uncollected stories, poems, and essays--Algren speaks to our time as few of his fellow great American writers of the 1940s and '50s do, in part because he hasn't yet been accepted and assimilated into the American literary canon despite that he is held up as a talismanic figure. "You should not read...