Nelson Algren and Ben Hecht and Their Infamous Exchange of Insults

Recently, as I was doing research on my upcoming classes on Ben Hecht, I came across an interesting piece in the Chicago Tribune dated November 20, 1963, headlined “Hecht Attacks Algren Preface.” This was about Nelson Algren’s preface to Hecht’s 1921 novel “Erik Dorn” which had just been republished by the University of Chicago as part of its new series of novels during the “Chicago Literary Renaissance.”
Hecht had never read Algren’s preface before the book’s republication. In that preface Algren states the novel was a “deterioration of a naturalistic novel into a Grade B scenario.” One wonders why the University Chicago Press allowed this castigation of the book to go into the preface in the first place.
A peeved Hecht declined an invitation to a cocktail party hosted by the University of Chicago Press celebrating the new series by sending a telegram from New York stating that he had “no hankering to pose in your local festivities as a literary patsy.” Hecht went on to tell a reporter concerning Algren that “I have never read his works. I don’t have the faintest idea what he writes like. In this case he stinks.” Moreover, he viewed Algren as having a “Beverly Hillbilly kind of intellectuality.”
Then Algren, who was never shy in verbal counterpunches, goes on to insult Hecht personally in an interview to a newspaper reporter opining that “He hasn’t done anything since ‘Erik Dorn’……. He’s made one or two movies and some awful bad ones.” Algren continues his invective on Hecht’s writing, “It wasn’t gas he ran out of, and surely it wasn’t brass. It was belief.” Jabbing the dagger a little deeper, Algren suggested that Hecht had showed a failure of nerves by “ducking out” of the cocktail party.

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News Stories by Peter Nolan

Hearty congratulations to my friend Peter Nolan on the publication of his new book News Stories. Many of you know of Peter through his work as a reporter for NBC news in Chicago where he won three Emmys. Now retired from TV, he recalls in this new memoir many of the fascinating stories he reported on over the years. My career in Chicago government overlapped his reporting career, and I remember his uncanny knack to discover the many stories of political tomfoolery in those times. If you love the comedy and drama of Chicago politics then you will love Peter Nolan’s News Stories, published by Gatekeeper Press.

1001 Train Rides in Chicago

My new book “1001 Train Rides in Chicago” will be published by Eckhartz Press around the 4th of July. It is a work of fiction that contains 64 short vignettes of people who ride the eight lines of CTA trains. The cover design (which you see above) is by Leonid Osseny. Leonid will also be providing some sketches of the passengers on the trains. It is hoped that my readers will experience some empathy with these fictional characters. Their common thread is that they are members of our human community, and like all of us, they seek to find meaning and purpose in what is often a difficult world. I want to share some of my characters with you on this blog. So today please meet Antoine Hargrove.

Antoine Hargrove has been working as a wheelchair attendant at O’Hare for nearly two years. He had never been to the airport before he started working there. Although he is now 27 years old, he still hasn’t flown on an airplane.
He gets to work by hopping on the Clark Street bus heading south. Then he boards the Blue Line at Monroe and Dearborn. O’Hare is the final destination on the train.
Antoine and his mother live in a subsidized low-income apartment in Old Town. The youngest sibling in the family, his brother and sister left a while back. Both his mom and dad use to work years ago at the Oscar Mayer plant in the neighborhood, where the work was steady and the benefits decent. Then the company shut it down and moved the jobs out of state.
His dad was never able to get a decent job after that. His diabetes got really got bad, and soon he passed away, leaving his mom to provide for three children working on the pittance of a salary that a Certified Nursing Assistant earns.
Working as a wheelchair attendant isn’t a bad gig. Most of the people he wheels are old or disabled, sometimes both. Every now and then he’ll have a nice discussion with someone who he is wheeling down the concourse. Frequently though it is pretty much dead silence on the person’s part. They just want to get to Point A to Point B as quick as possible, with no hassles or drama.
He never quite knows how he’s going to make out in tips for the day. He might be stiffed by a guy in a business suit, but a derelict-looking guy might put a twenty in his hand. The two things that he has learned on the job is that life is full of surprises and don’t judge people by their appearances.

Cliff Dwellers Book Club

CLIFF DWELLERS BOOK CLUB READING LIST (Balance of 2018)

March 24-The South Side- Natalie Moore
April 28- 1001 Afternoons in Chicago-Ben Hecht
May 26-City of Scoundrels- Gary Krist
June 30- Life Itself-Roger Ebert
July 28- Playboy and the Making of the Good Life in Modern America-Elizabeth Fraterrigo
August 25-To Sleep with the Angels- David Cowan and John Kuenster
September 22-The Lazarus Project –Aleksander Hemon
October 27-The Logic of a Rose-Billy Lombardo
November 24-Forever Open, Clear and Free-Lois Wille
Our Chicago-themed book club is free and open to the public. We begin promptly at 11:00 am. The Cliff Dwellers is located at 200 South Michigan on the 22nd floor. Moderator for the book club is Richard Reeder, who can be contacted at richardreeder34@gmail.com

CLIFF DWELLERS LITERARY SALON RESUMES WITH RICK KOGAN

March 7 promises to be a fun and informative evening, as Rick Kogan is the featured guest at the next Cliff Dwellers literary salon. I will be engaging Rick in conversation that evening. It should be a blast! We are expecting a nice turnout, so make your reservations early. Here is the info on the event:

DATE: MARCH 7, 2018
RECEPTION: 5:00-6:00 PM
BUFFET DINNER: 6:00-6:30 PM
PROGRAM: 6:30 PM
COST: $35.00
The Cliff Dwellers Club 200 S. Michigan, Suite 2200
Chicago, Illinois 60604

Please make your reservations at reservations@cliff-chicago.org or by calling 312-922-8080.

Author Renee Rosen at Emanuel Congregation on February 11


Renee Rosen is one of best authors around writing novels based on Chicago’s social history. Her 2014 book, What the Lady Wants, brilliantly tells the story of Marshall Field, both as the great Chicago businessman, as well as a man deeply conflicted in his personal life. Renee’s most recent book, Windy City Blues, is a tale of an interracial love affair set within the contexts of Chicago’s iconic Chess Records and the Civil Rights Movement. Renee is the next featured writer at the Emanuel Congregation’s Speaker Series on Sunday morning, February 11. The event is free and open to the public, and begins at 10:15 am. Emanuel Congregation is located at 5959 N. Sheridan Road. If you plan to attend or have any questions whatsoever, please contact me at richardreeder34@gmail.com.

Celebrating Chicago Writers

Despite it being a frigid Chicago winter’s night, a full-house assembled at The Book Cellar this past Saturday to participate in the annual Chicago Writers Association Book of the Year Awards. My friend Randy Richardson and his fellow board members always put on a great event, and this year was no exception. All four winners were present, and each read from her prize-winning book. It was nice to see so many of the authors who were honorable mentions and finalists also in attendance. The winners in the four categories were:
Traditional Fiction: The Virginity of Famous Men by Christine Sneed
Indie Fiction: Out the Door! By M. L. Collins
Traditional Nonfiction: Algren: A Life by Mary Wisniewski
Indie Nonfiction: Of This Much I’m Sure by Nadine Kennedy Johnstone
The winner of the CWA’s “Spirit Award” was Suzy Takacs, the owner of The Book Cellar, for being a “tireless advocate for Chicago literature and the people who create it.”