When I visited Nelson Algren in his Wicker Park apartment in 1975, Algren was selling off all of his possessions prior to moving from Chicago to Paterson, New Jersey. Algren intended to write a novel about the fight rackets in Paterson. “Buy my books,” Algren hawked. “I don’t care if you read them, just buy them. All of them. I’ll even throw in my autograph for free.”
Algren has always reminded me of my friend Wayne Allen Sallee, not only because they both lived in and wrote about Chicago but because they looked and talked alike. I didn’t know Wayne yet in 1975, wouldn’t meet Wayne for another ten years, but they both possessed the same kind of energy in person and in their writing that drives them to greatness. Wayne is still alive and still writing. Algren died in 1981.
I have always admired both Wayne Allen Sallee and Nelson Algren. I admire them not only for their writing ability but because neither man ever appeared shy about asking others to read what they wrote.
As I prepare to hang up my writer’s hat temporarily to begin marketing my latest novels, I can’t help but recall Wayne Allen Sallee and Nelson Algren. I visited Wayne recently on the south side of Chicago and we shared a pizza and talked about writing and about friends in the writing business we’ve recently lost (as well as family members we’ve recently lost). I didn’t tell Wayne about Nelson Algren. I should have, but I didn’t.
I didn’t tell Wayne that Nelson Algren had given me a copy of issue zero of Marshall Field III’s The Chicago Sun with an article Algren wrote for that in-house test edition. Algren knew I had worked on The Daily Illini alongside Roger Ebert in 1962 and 1963 (Ebert was Editor in Chief, and I was assistant city editor and wrote stories and heads and helped Roger put the paper to bed every night). Algren had also written for The DI in the 1930s when he was a journalism major at U of I. Algren gave me that copy of the Sun because he knew I’d appreciate it.
Wayne Allen Salle gave me a copy of the German edition of The Holy Terror, Wayne’s fictional masterpiece about Chicago. I don’t think Wayne knew I had studied German for two years at the University of Illinois. I think he gave the novel because he knew I had read the original in English and I’d appreciate seeing the foreign edition.
So, now that I’m about to begin marketing my new novels and seeing some of my old novels return to print, I find myself repeating what Nelson Algren once said to me: “Buy my books. I don’t care if you read them, just buy them. All of them. I’ll even throw in my autograph for free.”
And, if you should happen to read some of them, I want you to know in advance how much I appreciate it.