Never a Lovely so Real: The Life and Work of Nelson Algren

Editors' Choice -- New York Times Book Review

The Best Book I Read All Year Was ... -- Washington Independent Review of Books

The 25 Best Books of the First Half of 2019 -- InsideHook

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Praise for Never a Lovely so Real

In Asher, [Algren] gets the biographer any writer dreams of: thorough, smart, literate, and unabashedly on his subject’s side—a disciple, a role that puts him, as the book itself lays out, in excellent, even august company.

-Jonathan Dee, writing in The New Yorker

[A] brilliant new biography... [a] vivid, vastly insightful book...

-Andrew O'Hagan, writing in the The New York Review of Books


[A] well-written and scrupulously researched biography... One can only hope that efforts of remembrance like Never a Lovely So Real will help to return the author’s star to the literary firmament where it belongs.

-Woody Haut, writing in the Los Angeles Review of Books

Absorbing ... Asher … scrupulously attempts to separate facts from myths (some created by Algren himself) as he explores how a writer who produced prose-poetry of such a high order could now be largely forgotten.

-Susan Jacoby, writing in the New York Times Book Review

Asher’s book is devotional and beautifully written, seven years in the making, its sentences capturing the very same mix of lyricism and street, hard truths and sentimentality that made Algren himself so special. It delves into Algren’s lifelong struggle to stay true to his credo, his soulful cry that the purpose of any writer is to stand up to power, to take the judge down from the bench, to give voice to the voiceless. And it 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.

-Dan Simon, founder and publisher of Seven Stories Press, writing in The Nation


[A] definitive portrait ... By a combination of meticulous research and a smooth prose style, Asher has fashioned a narrative that is both a joy to read and is utterly convincing. ... Through three-dimensional portraits of the people and places key to the man’s life, Asher has fashioned as full a picture of Algren as any of his long-suffering fans could hope for ... Anyone who reads Asher’s book will be convinced that Nelson Algren deserves a place in the canon.

-Dmitry Samarov, writing in Vol. 1 Brooklyn

Never A Lovely So Real is a work of love and prodigious research and, as such, deserves to be honored. Asher has a talent for delivering a great deal of anecdotal information with the kind of relish that feels delicious...

-Vivian Gornick, writing in The New Republic

[A] vigorously detailed yet swiftly flowing narrative ... As he presents Algren as a seminal American writer focused on injustice in this captivating, redefining, and sharply relevant biography, Asher also reveals how the insidious abuse of power by the federal government destroys lives.

-Donna Seaman, writing in Booklist (starred review)

With vigorous, poetic detail, Asher reconstructs Algren’s formative experiences of poverty during the Depression and Army service during WWII, his burst of fame during the Cold War and subsequent struggles, and his twilight years as a mentor to writers such as Don DeLillo. ... The result is a generous, stylish portrait of an impulsive, directionless outsider who nonetheless established a place among the lions of mid-20th century American literature.

-Publishers Weekly (starred review)

[C]arefully researched and beautifully written … Nelson Algren is now an obscure name in the canon. But in “Never a Lovely So Real,” the biographer Colin Asher has set out to explore the genesis, the inner workings of this complicated author who sold millions of copies of literary short stories and novels, deeply influencing dozens of writers, notably Richard Wright and Simone de Beauvoir.

-Lou Ann Walker, writing in The East Hampton Star

This is the third biography of the great Nelson Algren, and it's easily the best and simply an extraordinary book in its own right. Asher is a first-rate story-teller, and his book reads like a deeply researched novel about the strange and wayward life of a determined outsider. More than any first-rate American novelist of the postwar era, Algren has fallen through the cracks because of certain misconceptions about his work and person that Asher strives to correct; I applaud his heroic project, in a callous phase of our national history, to restore the reputation of a writer who evoked the singular dignity of the lowliest human lives.


-Blake Bailey, author of Cheever: A Life

Nelson Algren is one of those fascinating, almost-mythical figures in 20th Century arts and letters, and Colin Asher’s fine biography brings him to life with breathless intensity. It also  provides the necessary corrective to Algren’s hitherto misrepresented and misunderstood life and work, and restores him to the rightful position he should occupy in American literature.


-Deirdre Bair, National Book Award-winning author of Samuel Beckett: A Biography, and Simone de Beauvoir: a Biography

A magnificently thorough and sensitive study of one of the great authors in twentieth century America. Nelson Algren, the instinctive rebel, troubled personality, object of liberal and conservative attacks in the Cold War era, rose above it all in his often brilliantly poetic prose. Colin Asher’s engrossing biography explores why Algren spoke for those who could not speak for themselves, and demonstrates why we desperately need a voice like his today.


-Paul Buhle, retired Senior Lecturer, Brown University, author of Marxism in the United States and co-editor of Tender Comrades: The Backstory of the Hollywood Blacklist

Colin Asher has written a deeply researched, moving account of a great writer’s life. Nelson Algren was a titanic talent, a mid-20th century comet of a novelist who lit up the literary landscape for two decades, then mysteriously darkened and all but disappeared. Asher’s biography goes a long ways towards explaining why.


-Russell Banks, two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist, and author of The Sweet Hereafter, Continental Drift, Cloudsplitter, and many others

In straightforward yet graceful prose and with deep insight—let alone an immense amount of meticulous research—[Asher] has produced a major literary biography. Never a Lovely So Real testifies to the richness of Algren’s genius as a writer and explains the misunderstood nature of the man. It reveals what made him tick, exposes the legends, and brings him to life in a way no previous biography has. ... And if there’s any justice, it will put Algren’s books back at the heart of the 20th-century American canon.

-Jan Herman, author of the Z Collection, and A Talent for Trouble: The Life of Hollywood's Most Acclaimed Director, William Wyler






March 10, 6PM: Reading and Discussion, NYU Biography Seminar, New York University, NYC, NY

February 11, 6PM: Reading and Discussion with Carla Kaplan, Northeastern University Center for the Arts, Ryder Hall, Boston, MA



April 23: Reading, Les Bleus Literary Salon, New York, NY

April 26, 7PM: Reading and Q&A, The Nelson Algren Museum of Miller Beach, 541 S. Lake St., Miller Beach, IN

April 27, 7PM: Reading and Q&A (with Michael Caplan), Volumes Bookcafe, 1474 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago, IL

May 2, 7PM: Reading and Q&A, Community Bookstore, 143 Seventh Ave., Brooklyn, NY

May 8, 6:30PM: Panel Discussion (with Russell Banks and Dan Simon), The Leon Levy Center for Biography, 365 5th Ave., New York, NY

May 18, 5PM: Reading and Q&A, Canio's Books, 290 Main Street, Sag Harbor, NY

June 9, 11AM: Panel Discussion (with Rick Kogan and Mary Ann Cain), Printers Row Lit Fest (C-Span Stage), Chicago, IL

June 25, 6:30PM: Reading and Q&A, The American Writers Museum in Chicago, 180 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, IL

August 15, 7PM: Reading and Q&A, Park Road Books, 4139 Park Road,Charlotte, NC

October 12: The Cheltenham Booker, The Times and Sunday Times Cheltenham Literature Festival, Cheltenham, UK



Queries, Appearances, and Correspondence:

Colin Asher:


Rights Inquiries:

Ria Julien:


Foreign and Subsidiary Rights Inquiries:

Matt McGowan: