Seven Stories Press

Works of Radical Imagination

Algren at Sea

Notes from a Sea Diary & Who Lost an American?: Travel Writings

by Nelson Algren


Nelson Algren’s two books of travel writing describe his journeys through the seamier side of the international social and political landscape of the mid-1960s.

Algren at Sea brings both books together in one volume on the centenary of Algren’s birth.

Aboard the freighter Malaysia Mail in Notes From a Sea Diary, Algren offers a gritty account of his time among his down-and-out fellow sailors and the underground port life of Kowloon, Bombay, Pusan—yet an account softened by his discussion of Hemingway, Hemingway’s attitude toward the world of literature (and the world of literature’s attitude toward Hemingway), and the role of a writer in modern America.

Who Lost an American? takes us on a whirlwind spin from the world of the New York literary scene to Dublin, Crete, Paris, Seville, and more, with Algren commenting on everything from Simone de Beauvoir to bullfights to Playboy key clubs to the death of Brendan Behan—and, as always, Chicago, Algren’s eternal touchstone of American brutality.


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“Algren's personal rhythm [is] irreverent, funny, surreal, as if he has blended the lyricism of his early writing . . . with a tough meander and wail like that of funky jazz. Algren is a writer, the authentic poetic article; a fresh haircut strikes his eye as vividly as the murder of a Chicago poker player on a backstairs.”

“In the material assembled to create Who Lost an American? and Notes From a Sea Diary, Algren was flirting with a kind of writing that would eventually be labeled 'postmodern': writing that rejects realism and the complexity of much modernist prose; that is self-referential, playful, and non-linear . . . that collapses genre distinctions, erases thew line between fiction and non-fiction.”

blog — March 22

Why Nelson Algren Matters

One of America's best loved writers, Nelson Algren won the first National Book Award for Fiction in 1950. But his star faded following harassment by J. Edgar Hoover's FBI during the McCarthy era and changes in literary fashion. Now there's a Nelson Algren revival going on. Colin Asher's epic biography Never a Lovely So Real: The Life and Work of Nelson Algren arrives from Norton in April and is already receiving rave reviews from the likes of the New Yorker.

Seven Stories publisher Dan Simon's essay in the current Nation details why Nelson Algren matters so much—not just as a literary figure, but for us all, right here, right now. According to Simon, Asher's biography "delivers a wrenching portrait of a man who struggled to maintain his sanity and his spirit in a society that was well prepared to see its writers give up or sell out, but struggled to comprehend writers who persevered and paid the price as Algren did."

And speaking of right here, right now, take 75% off all e-books by Algren on the Seven Stories website. Click on any of the books below, or check out the collection right here.

Algren and Kurt Vonnegut were good friends, having taught together at the Iowa Writers' Workshop in 1965–7. See Malcolm Jack's piece in today's New York Times on the 50th Anniversary of Slaughterhouse Five.


One of the most neglected American writers and also one of the best loved, NELSON ALGREN wrote once that “literature is made upon any occasion that a challenge is put to the legal apparatus by conscience in touch with humanity.” His writings always lived up to that definition. He was born on March 28, 1909, in Detroit and lived mostly in Chicago. His first short fiction was published in Story magazine in 1933. In 1935 he published his first novel, Somebody in Boots. In early 1942, Algren put the finishing touches on a second novel and joined the war as an enlisted man. By 1945, he still had not made the grade of Private first class, but the novel Never Come Morning was widely praised and eventually sold over a million copies. Jean-Paul Sartre translated the French-language edition. In 1947 came The Neon Wilderness, his famous short story collection which would permanently establish his place in American letters. The Man with the Golden Arm, generally considered Algren’s most important novel, appeared in 1949 and became the first winner of the National Book Award for Fiction in March 1950. Then came Chicago: City on the Make (1951), a prose poem, and A Walk on the Wild Side (1956), a rewrite of Somebody in Boots. Algren also published two travel books, Who Lost an American? and Notes from a Sea Voyage. The Last Carousel, a collection of short fiction and nonfiction, appeared in 1973. He died on May 9, 1981, within days of his appointment as a fellow of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. His last novel, The Devil’s Stocking, based on the life of Hurricane Carter, and Nonconformity: Writing on Writing, a 1952 essay on the art of writing, were published posthumously in 1983 and 1996 respectively. In 2009 came Entrapment and Other Writings, a major collection of previously unpublished writings that included two early short story masterpieces, “Forgive Them, Lord,” and “The Lightless Room,” and the long unfinished novel fragment referenced in the book’s title. In 2019, Blackstone Audio released the complete library of Algren’s books as audiobooks. And in 2020 Olive Films released Nelson Algren Live, a performance film of Algren’s life and work starring Willem Dafoe and Barry Gifford, among others, produced by the Seven Stories Institute.