Nelson Algren quotes

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Nelson Algren

Birthdate: 28. March 1909
Date of death: 9. May 1981

Nelson Algren was an American writer. He may be best known for The Man with the Golden Arm, a 1949 novel that won the National Book Award and was adapted as a 1955 film of the same name.

According to Harold Augenbraum, "in the late 1940s and early 1950s he was one of the best known literary writers in America." The lover of French writer Simone de Beauvoir, he was featured in her novel The Mandarins, set in Paris and Chicago.

He is considered "a bard of the down-and-outer", based on this book and his novel A Walk on the Wild Side . The latter was adapted as a play of the same name, produced on Broadway.

Works

„Life is hard by the yard, son. But you don't have to do it by the yard. By the inch it's a cinch. And money can't buy everything. For example: poverty.“

—  Nelson Algren, book A Walk on the Wild Side

In jail, Cross-Country Kline to Dove Linkhorn.
Source: A Walk on the Wild Side (1956)
Context: But blow wise to this, buddy, blow wise to this: Never play cards with a man called Doc. Never eat at a place called Mom's. Never sleep with a woman whose troubles are worse than your own. Never let nobody talk you into shaking another man's jolt. And never you cop another man's plea. I've tried 'em all and I know. They don't work. / Life is hard by the yard, son. But you don't have to do it by the yard. By the inch it's a cinch. And money can't buy everything. For example: poverty.

„A writer who knows what he is doing isn't doing very much.“

—  Nelson Algren

"he once said", quoted by Richard Flanagan, 2005. (Also quoted as: "Any writer who knows what he's doing isn't doing very much.")
Nonfiction works

„Well, here you get to be a writer when there's absolutely nothing else you can do.“

—  Nelson Algren

"The Art of Fiction No. 11" (1955)
Context: I don't think the isolation of the American writer is a tradition; it's more that geographically he just is isolated, unless he happens to live in New York City. But I don't suppose there's a small town around the country that doesn't have a writer. The thing is that here you get to be a writer differently. I mean, a writer like Sartre decides, like any professional man, when he's fifteen, sixteen years old, that instead of being a doctor he's going to be a writer. And he absorbs the French tradition and proceeds from there. Well, here you get to be a writer when there's absolutely nothing else you can do. I mean, I don't know of any writers here who just started out to be writers, and then became writers. They just happen to fall into it.

„The less he sees of other writers the more of a writer he will ultimately become. When he sees scarcely anyone except other writers, he is ready for New York.“

—  Nelson Algren, book Nonconformity

Nonconformity (1953/1996)
Context: The American middle class's faith in personal comfort as an end in itself is, in essence, a denial of life. And it has been imposed upon American writers and playwrights strongly enough to cut them off from their deeper sources. The shortcut to comfort is called “specialization,” and in an eye-ear-nose-and-throat doctor this makes sense. But in a writer it is fatal. The less he sees of other writers the more of a writer he will ultimately become. When he sees scarcely anyone except other writers, he is ready for New York.

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„I've always felt strongly that a writer shouldn't be engaged with other writers, or with people who make books, or even with people who read them. I think the farther away you get from the literary traffic, the closer you are to sources.“

—  Nelson Algren

"The Art of Fiction No. 11" (1955)
Context: I don't know many writers. [... ] Well, I dunno, but I do have the feeling that other writers can't help you with writing. I've gone to writers' conferences and writers' sessions and writers' clinics, and the more I see of them, the more I'm sure it's the wrong direction. It isn't the place where you learn to write. I've always felt strongly that a writer shouldn't be engaged with other writers, or with people who make books, or even with people who read them. I think the farther away you get from the literary traffic, the closer you are to sources. I mean, a writer doesn't really live, he observes.

„I haven't consciously tried to develop [a style]. The only thing I've consciously tried to do was put myself in a position to hear the people I wanted to hear talk talk.“

—  Nelson Algren

"The Art of Fiction No. 11" (1955)
Context: Well, I haven't consciously tried to develop [a style]. The only thing I've consciously tried to do was put myself in a position to hear the people I wanted to hear talk talk. I used the police lineup for I don't know how many years. [... ] I was just over on the South Side and got rolled. But they gave me a card, you know, to look for the guys in the lineup, and I used that card for something like seven years.

„He was falling between glacial walls, he didn't know how anyone could fall so far away from everyone else in the world. So far to fall, so cold all the way, so steep and dark between those morphine-colored walls of [an addict]'s terrible pit.“

—  Nelson Algren, book The Man with the Golden Arm

Frankie Machine above the Club Safari, where drug is sold.
The Man with the Golden Arm (1949)
Context: The clock in the room above the Safari told only Junkie Time. For every hour here was Old Junkie's Hour and the walls were the color of all old junkies' dreams: the hue of diluted morphine in the moment before the needle draws the suffering blood. / Walls that went up and up like walls in a troubled dream. Walls like water where no legend could be written and no hand grasp metal or wood. [... ] He was falling between glacial walls, he didn't know how anyone could fall so far away from everyone else in the world. So far to fall, so cold all the way, so steep and dark between those morphine-colored walls of [an addict]'s terrible pit.

„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.“

—  Nelson Algren, book Nonconformity

Nonconformity (1953/1996)
Context: To see life steadily, and see it whole, as a creature of the deep sees it, from below. 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.

„The clock in the room above the Safari told only Junkie Time.“

—  Nelson Algren, book The Man with the Golden Arm

Frankie Machine above the Club Safari, where drug is sold.
The Man with the Golden Arm (1949)
Context: The clock in the room above the Safari told only Junkie Time. For every hour here was Old Junkie's Hour and the walls were the color of all old junkies' dreams: the hue of diluted morphine in the moment before the needle draws the suffering blood. / Walls that went up and up like walls in a troubled dream. Walls like water where no legend could be written and no hand grasp metal or wood. [... ] He was falling between glacial walls, he didn't know how anyone could fall so far away from everyone else in the world. So far to fall, so cold all the way, so steep and dark between those morphine-colored walls of [an addict]'s terrible pit.

„Never on the earth of man has he lived so tidily as here amidst such psychological disorder.“

—  Nelson Algren, book Nonconformity

Nonconformity (1953/1996)
Context: Do American faces so often look so lost because they are most tragically trapped between a very real dread of coming alive to something more than merely existing, and an equal dread of going down to the grave without having done more than merely be comfortable? If so, this is the truly American disease. And would account in part for the fact that we lead the world today in insanity, criminality, alcoholism, narcoticism, psychoanalysm, cancer, homicide and perversion in sex as well as in perversion just for the pure hell of the thing. Never on the earth of man has he lived so tidily as here amidst such psychological disorder. Never has any people lived so hygienically while daily dousing itself with the ritual slops of guilt. Nowhere has any people set itself a moral code so rigid while applying it quite so flexibly.

„Yet once you've come to be part of this particular patch, you'll never love another. Like loving a woman with a broken nose, you may well find lovelier lovelies. But never a lovely so real.“

—  Nelson Algren

Source: Chicago: City on the Make (1951), Chapter 2, ""Are you a Christian?""
Context: [About Chicago:] It's every man for himself in this hired air. / Yet once you've come to be part of this particular patch, you'll never love another. Like loving a woman with a broken nose, you may well find lovelier lovelies. But never a lovely so real.

„A certain ruthlessness and a sense of alienation from society is as essential to creative writing as it is to armed robbery.“

—  Nelson Algren, book Nonconformity

Source: Nonconformity (1953/1996)
Context: 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. Compassion is all to the good, but vindictiveness is the verity Faulkner forgot: the organic force in every creative effort, from the poetry of Villon to the Brinks Express Robbery, that gives shape and color to all our dreams. [... ] A certain ruthlessness and a sense of alienation from society is as essential to creative writing as it is to armed robbery. The strong-armer isn't out merely to turn a fast buck any more than the poet is out solely to see his name on the cover of a book, whatever satisfaction that event may afford him. What both need most deeply is to get even. And, of course, neither will.

„Never play cards with a man called Doc. Never eat at a place called Mom's. Never sleep with a woman whose troubles are worse than your own.“

—  Nelson Algren, book A Walk on the Wild Side

In jail, Cross-Country Kline to Dove Linkhorn.
Source: A Walk on the Wild Side (1956)
Context: But blow wise to this, buddy, blow wise to this: Never play cards with a man called Doc. Never eat at a place called Mom's. Never sleep with a woman whose troubles are worse than your own. Never let nobody talk you into shaking another man's jolt. And never you cop another man's plea. I've tried 'em all and I know. They don't work. / Life is hard by the yard, son. But you don't have to do it by the yard. By the inch it's a cinch. And money can't buy everything. For example: poverty.

„Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetuer adipiscing elit. Etiam egestas wisi a erat. Morbi imperdiet, mauris ac auctor dictum.“

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