A Literacy of the Imagination

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Algren: A Transmedia Project in the Making

Algren: A Transmedia Project in the Making

I am proud to announce my involvement as a (transmedia) producer on a fantastic new project that my sister, Gail Sonnenfeld, has been spearheading for the last year or so on the life and times of Nelson Algren.

Gail, who hails from the Chicago area (Algren's stomping grounds) and has been producing documentaries for quite some time, now teaches film theory and set design at Columbia College, and actually received her masters in architectural design from Columbia University (it's always fun to confuse people...). Gail originally came to me to help with the evolution of the documentary piece, but as our conversations on the Algren subject matter progressed, it became abundantly clear to us that this was ripe for a multi-narrative, multi-platform execution.

For those of you who might be unfamiliar, Nelson Algren was a very muscular, iconoclastic, counter-culturalist (and infrequent pugilist) who influenced a wide range of popular and emerging artists including Lou Reed, Tom Waits, Philip Kaufman, Johnny Depp, David Mamet, Russell Banks, Kurt Vonnegut, John Sayles, Richard Wright, Joe Meno, Bill Savage, Rick Kogan and William Friedkin.

Ernest Hemingway once said of Algren: “…Mr. Algren can hit with both hands and move around and he will kill you if you are not awfully careful… Mr. Algren, boy, are you good.”

Most of the living legends mentioned above have already committed to the project, and we are in talks with the Algren family to obtain the lifetime rights to his works.

Algren was the National Book Award-winning author of The Man With the Golden Arm and A Walk on the Wild Side, who moved with his family from Detroit to Chicago during his formative youth. His centerpiece effort, Chicago, City on the Make, was a scathing essay that outraged the city's boosters but beautifully presented the back alleys of the town, its dispossessed, its corrupt politicians and its swindlers. An early interest in both poetry and sociology led him to write eloquently about the underclass - criminals, prostitutes, wrestlers, and addicts - whom Algren felt represented the true Midwest of 20th-century America.

And in the true spirit of a tortured soul, Algren had his own run-ins with the law... Perhaps the artist imitating the life he so often wrote about and admired.

Algren: A Transmedia Project in the Making

Algren was also acknowledged as the unnamed, jilted lover of feminist icon Simone de Beauvoir as portrayed in her book, The Mandarins. Much in the same way that Simone rejected him by refusing to leave Jean Paul Sartre (the famous philosopher and writer), Algren expressed great disdain towards Hollywood. He scorned the film industry after money battles with Otto Preminger regarding The Man with the Golden Arm, and bristled at Frank Sinatra in the role of Frankie Machine.

The central theme of the film and respective narrative pieces is Algren’s unavoidable compulsion to live and write about the dispossessed of our society, themes that we find in the artists he so profoundly influenced, as well as topics that are pervasive in the ongoing cultural debates that can be found in mass and micro-media. The project as a whole is an opportunity to take these explorations of the human condition out into the very environments that foster them, both on- and offline.

Algren wrote: “It has been earth’s disposed who have given man his most abiding truths.”

The core Algren documentary piece will tell the personal story in 13 chapters, and offer up extensions of the narrative that can live as artist renditions of his life in gallery exhibitions, physical installations, poetry readings and musical experiments, episodic and webisodic vehicles (film, TV, online and/or otherwise) and perhaps even social games and cognitive learning tools. Rather than telling the standard biography from birth to death, we will portray Algren through his interests and those he has influenced; from boxing and horse racing, to the women in his life and his love for the world of art and literature – things we hope can also translate into considerable philanthropic or educational and institutional offerings.

As for brand sponsorship and respective integrations, we have some challenges given the racy nature of the man and his work, but we are confident that the importance of his influence will be embraced by a select few brave brand and network souls who would like to share his twisted inspirations with the world ;)

Stay tuned...