A white man's journey into Black literature

One of them was former Tribune book editor John Blades who told me via email, “I’d always thought of Harry as the third man in a Chicago gang of three, behind James T. Farrell and Nelson Algren, all of whom covered similar territory, burrowing deeply and empathetically into what’s become known as the city’s underclass — gamblers and working stiffs, delinquents and boozers, low-rollers and dreamers, derelict husbands and errant drifters. As a stylist, Petrakis was superior to Farrell’s pedestrian, almost stenographic prose in his ‘Studs Lonigan’ trilogy. But Petrakis’ lusty men and women, defined by bursts of tragicomic energy and mythic dimensions in ‘A Dream of Kings’ and other novels, was no match for Algren’s flights of urban poetry and his anguished feel for the downtrodden.”