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Meet Your Neighbor: Nelson Algren

Meet Nelson Algren! Nelson Algren is a famous author most known for his novel “The Man with the Golden Arm”. Algren spent lot of time in the dunes in the 50’s, where he had a cabin in Miller. Algren was also known for his relationship with French writer, activist and feminist, Simone de Beauvoir. We are told Simone spent time with Nelson in the dunes — and even sunbathed in the nude, causing quite a raucous!

We thought it would be fun to write a “Meet your Neighbor” article as if it were written by Nelson Algren.

How did you come to the dunes? I grew up in Chicago. My sister and her husband bought a cottage on the beach in Gary before the stock market crashed. They let me spend as much time as I wanted there during the Depression. I’d hitchhike down and spend weeks or months at a time. After “The Man with the Golden Arm” was published, I had some money, so I bought a secluded cottage on a lagoon in Miller. I always kept an apartment in Chicago, but this was my get-away place in the 50’s and 60’s.

What do you like about it here?  I thought I’d just stay here for the summer, but I winter here too now. It’s nice. I can take the train back into Chicago when I need it, but this is a place to get away from it all. I can bicycle where I need to go and the train stops on the other end of town, so friends can visit me easily. I have parties with people from all over the world.

Do you have any favorite spots?  Pignotti’s store is nearby and I can pick up some beer, or just about anything else one might need. It’s convenient. There’s a place called Flamingo Pizza that makes a pretty good pie. There’s a pharmacist, a grocery, a couple taverns, a bakery. It’s not as busy as Chicago, but I can get almost anything I might need here. When I reach the dead end of my street, I’m in my own quiet place. There’s a spot on the edge of the woods to pick marijuana, but we don’t talk about that.

Do you enjoy the dunes?  I spend some time sitting in my backyard overlooking the lagoon. I’ve got a row boat. I like to row across the lagoon sometimes, especially if I have a guest, climb the sand dunes and cool off in the lake on hot summer days. It’s a nice diversion from my typewriter and all the politics going on in Washington right now on the radio. 

Algren’s cottage, as it now stands, located on the lagoon in Miller Beach.

Tell us something unusual you own? I have a World War II German Mauser. 

That is unusual. Any words for aspiring writers?  I wrote the majority of my novel, “A Walk on the Wild Side,” in Miller. Lou Reed was so inspired by the material he used it to write his iconic song “Walk on the Wild Side” in 1972. A book, a true book, is the writer’s confessional. For, whether he would have it so or not, he is betrayed, directly or indirectly, by his characters, into presenting publicly his innermost feelings.

Any parting words of wisdom for readers?  These are my Rules for Adulthood: Never play cards with a man called Doc. Never eat at a place called Mom’s. Never sleep with a woman whose troubles are worse than your own.

Would you like to learn more about Nelson Algren? Be sure to visit the Nelson Algren Museum of Miller Beach, which is housed in the 1928 Telephone Building once owned by Algren friend David Peltz, in Miller Beach, Indiana. Visit their website, email or call 773.914.2574 to schedule an appointment.

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