Nonconformity: Writing on Writing
Afterword by Dan Simon
Nonconformity is about 20th-century America: "Never on the earth of man has he lived so tidily as here amidst such psychological disorder." It is also 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 close enough to the heart to afford living hope."
In Nonconformity, Algren identifies the essential nature of the writer's relation to society, drawing examples from Dostoyevsky, Chekhov, Twain, and Fitzgerald, as well as utility infielder Leo Durocher and legendary barkeep Martin Dooley. He shares his deepest beliefs about the state of literature and its role in society, along the way painting a chilling portrait of the early 1950s, Joe McCarthy's heyday, when many American writers were blacklisted and ruined for saying similar things to what Algren says here.
"In the never-before-published, book-length essay Nonconformity … [Algren] articulates an American literary world view that should guide the generations of writers to follow him—a quest so ambitious it is hard to think of any other American writer who attempted it since, perhaps, Ralph Waldo Emerson in Self-Reliance." —Gerald Nicosia, The Chicago Sun-Times
"A handbook for tough, truth-telling outsiders who are proud, as was Algren, to damn well stay that way." —Kurt Vonnegut
"A passionate defense of the writer … Angry and funny as Algren usually is." —Kirkus Reviews
"At 16 bucks and beautifully bound—it may be among the best coffee table books of the year—Nonconformity is a steal, a few strokes of wonderful writing combined with an excellent bit of literary archaeology." —Bart Schneider, Salon
"This extended essay on what it takes to be a writer—and by extension a man—provides a corrosive antidote to any fin de siecle sentimentalizing of the American midcentury." —The Boston Globe
"Nonconformity underscores the beliefs of Algren, Dreiser and an army of intellectuals that it is the duty of the serious writer to serve as society's moral conscience … Simon has done a great service in bringing this book into print." —Bettina Drew, The Chicago Tribune
"Wise, courageous and humane." —Publishers Weekly
About Nelson Algren
One of the most neglected of American writers and also one of the best loved, NELSON ALGREN (1909–1981) once wrote that “literature is made upon any occasion that a challenge is put to the legal apparatus by conscience in touch with humanity.” His powerful voice rose out of the urban wilderness of postwar Chicago, and he returned there over and over, eventually transforming his “lower depths” into something the whole world could understand. Recipient of the first National Book Award for fiction and lauded by Hemingway as “one of the two best authors in America,” Algren remains one of our most defiant and indomitable novelists, with a body of work that includes five major novels, two short fiction collections, a book-length poem, and several collections of reportage.