Exploding onto the national literary scene in 1950 after winning the first-ever National Book Award for The Man with the Golden Arm, Nelson Algren defined post-World War II American urban fiction with his gritty, brilliant depiction of Chicago and its working class. Ernest Hemingway declared him second only to Faulkner; Kurt Vonnegut dubbed him a literary groundbreaker. Hollywood soon came calling, immortalizing his breakout novel with none other than Frank Sinatra in the lead role. Algren even won a notorious place in both the heart and work of France’s premiere feminist, Simone de Beauvoir, who infamously portrayed him as a jilted lover in her best-seller, The Mandarins.
Including never-before-seen archival footage, newly uncovered audio recordings and his own rarely seen, personal photo collages, ALGREN—featuring narration by Chicagoan David Pasquesi (“VEEP”, “Lodge 49”)—charts the rise and fall of a man whose transgressions, compassion and thirst for justice pushed him to dedicate his life and career to giving a voice to the voiceless. Through interviews with Algren’s friends, literary experts and artists—including John Sayles, William Friedkin, Philip Kaufman, Billy Corgan, and Wayne Kramer—the film reveals an intimate, witty and even antagonistic portrait of a tireless champion of America’s most marginalized. More than 70 years after earning his history-making National Book Award, Algren’s work is at once a time capsule of Chicago’s mid-century grit and a catalyst for contemporary political, cultural and social progress.