Sunday, February 27, 2011

2011 Nelson Algren Birthday Party Details

(All content, below, lifted from this site. I am hosting it here so I can link to it in listings)

The 2011 Nelson Algren Birthday Party will be March 26th, at Wicker Park Art Center... 2215 W. North Ave. at 8 pm.
10 bucks admission 7 for students with an ID and Seniors.... and if you're broke... come any way.

All are welcome, and there will be a cash bar. This year will feature stride piano champion Erwin Helfer, the band Chloe, writer Mike Jones, and the beautiful Delphine-as Simone De Beauvoir, and our own poet Charlie Newman. Actor extraordinnaire Richard Henzel. This years Algren award winners, and actor Gary Houston doing his impeccable Algren.
Video, photos, and art and Lots more- and we'll update as more comes in..
Spread the word. See you dere, the Nelson Algren Committee FOR MORE INFO CALL 773 235 4267
Warren Leming, Vice Chairman, The Nelson Algren Committee

Summary Report: The 21st Annual Nelson Algren Birthday Party, March 27, 2010

The Nelson Algren Committee, now in its 21st year, held what may have been its best birthday party ever under the auspices of Laura Weathered’s St. Paul’s Cultural Center, at 2215 W. North Avenue. It featured a rich and lively mixture of performance, literary discussion, anecdote, imagery, music and memory, brought together in an atmosphere of openness and spontaneity.

The evening was dedicated to the late Howard Zinn, author of A People’s History of the United States, who was honored by a poem and short presentation by Committee members Warren Leming and Hugh Iglarsh, respectively. Zinn not only wrote history, he also made it as a committed civil rights leader and anti-war activist. His work makes an interesting companion piece to Algren’s own Chicago: City on the Make, which is very much a people’s history of our own city.

The centerpiece of every party is the giving of the Nelson Algren Committee Awards to local artists and activists who have demonstrated “ a conscience in touch with humanity.” Award winners this year were green advocate Erika Allen, veteran film presenter and preservationist James Bond and stride piano legend Erwin Helfer. Each gave short, pointed talks on their work and its relationship to the Algren legacy. Helfer showed his gratitude by playing several crowd-pleasing piano compositions.

The academic community was represented at this year’s event by scholar and University of Michigan doctoral candidate Nathaniel Mills, who gave an informative talk on some of the more subtle political dimensions of Algren’s fiction. He was joined by prize-winning author and DePaul University creative writing instructor Bayo Ojikutu, who read from his hard-hitting, Chicago-based novel, Free Burning.

Poets Charlie Newman (also a Committee member), Paul Ryan and John Goode favored the audience with a rousing recitation of poetry in the Algren vein. They were joined by Walter Plumer, who read from his own work and spoke of his connection to J.J. Jameson/Norman Porter, the poet and Algren enthusiast who now languishes in a Massachusetts prison.

In what proved to be one of the most moving moments of the evening, Algren fan Orsolya Bene gave a short talk on what Algren’s work has meant to her, and issued an appeal for help with her research. Former UPI reporter Max Vanzi spoke of his debt to Algren and his long-term, long-distance relationship with the Committee. On his own dime, he came all the way from Sacramento, California to take part in the festivities. And past Algren Committee Award winner David Williams visited us from Madison, Wisconsin to discuss the importance of Algren in understanding the current situation.

French-born novelist Delphine Pontvieux gave a moving reading of Simone de Beauvoir’s letters to her lover Algren, and spoke about the relationship, one of the great romances of the 20th century – and soon to be the subject of a movie starring Johnny Depp as Algren.

Photographer and long-time Algren companion Art Shay, along with documentarian and Columbia College Professor Michael Caplan, spoke gently and graciously about Algren’s life and work, accompanied by photos and a trailer of Caplan’s upcoming film about Algren.

Actors Richard Henzel and Charles Richards did stellar turns as beatnik bard Lord Buckley and Algren respectively. They were joined by pianist Jonathan Menchin and author Kurt Jacobsen. The Algren dialogue, based on the book Conversations with Nelson Algren, was edited by Committee member Hugh Iglarsh, who also co-wrote the extensive program notes with fellow member Warren Leming.

Alice Prus and Nina Gaspich of the Committee provided birthday cake, song, goodwill and stellar performances at the sales table where tickets were taken and Algren wares and lore dispensed as the occasion arose. A non-documented but very real aspect of every Algren fest is the intense conversation that ensues, as performers and audience members join in discussions of the themes uncovered by the event.

John Garvey and Larry Jones provided offstage musical help and cheered the evening on. Webmaster Bill Bentley was able to get all the requisite information ready well before the event occurred. He – along with Ms. Weathered and the Committee – got the word out via conversation, advertisements, listings, radio, a poster or two, electronic signage and the Internet. The result was a gathering of over 100 Algren party veterans and novices – a mixed multitude from near and far, joined by their admiration for the author who understood Chicago like nobody else.

Max Vanzi is a retired writer/journalist living in Sacramento, California. Max covered the Far East and points between for the wire services as a foreign correspondent. Hes an Algren fan, and spent a weekend with the Committee during the last Algren Birthday party. He's done us the honor of a piece on the Committee, Algren's legacy, and his time in Chicago.

Newly available was the Nelson Algren “mugshot mug,” an unholy grail bearing the iconic jailhouse picture of Algren, along with the Committee’s URL. It proved to be a popular souvenir of the event. The mug project – along with the party itself – was in part made possible by the Wicker Park-Bucktown SSA #33, which has once again extended its generous support to our community venture.

As the guests departed into the Chicago night, most seemed exhilarated by their contact with Algren’s art and impressed by his continuing relevance. Like Algren’s best work, the party isn’t always slick but is every moment real. As one older partygoer noted enthusiastically, “I didn’t think things like this existed anymore” – a sentiment shared by many of those who attended.

1 comment:

  1. this years (2012) nelson algren birthday party will be held at wicker park arts.. 2215 w. north ave. march 24th, 8 pm, cash bar, see the website for more info: