Few writers represent the Chicago literary tradition and the cultural character of Wicker Park as fiercely as controversial novelist Nelson Algren, described as one of the most neglected and beloved figures in American literature.
Algren was well known for his tough, propulsive writing (he received the first National Book Award in 1950 for his novel The Man With the Golden Arm, set in Chicago), and his close identification with Chicago’s working class and anger toward machine politics and moneyed interests. Yet, Algren felt deeply slighted over time by Chicago, supposedly observing, “No writer ever gave more to a city and got back less.”
Algren and his cat lived from 1959 to 1975 at the top floor of this elaborately adorned red stone three-flat in Wicker Park, producing great literary works, and concluding his legendary love affair with famed feminist Simone de Beauvoir, whom he called “Frenchy.” Algren left the neighborhood in the 1970s, when it was beset by gangs and arson. The building is marked by a small plaque.
A “memorial block” can also be located about three blocks west, at the intersection of Hoyne and Evergreen, marked by a street sign: “Nelson Algren Avenue”.