NELSON ALGREN CHAIR: Raffle By Sag Harbor Bookstore

It may look like just a comfy old chair - but when Canio's Books in Sag Harbor raffles off the old green chair that visiting readers sit in when they come to read at the decades-young literary mecca on the East End, a significant bit of local literary history will become the prized possession of some lucky person.

"Reassured by Shelter Island poet Dan Moran that 'its history has outlived the chair,' we agreed to accept Dan's offer of a new chair to replace the well worn but storied 'Nelson Algren' chair, a fixture in the biography section of the shop since 1980," notes Canio's co-owner Kathryn Szoka.

At first a weekend enterprise, Canio's Books ( quickly became a fixture on the literary scene, in part due to the remarkably engaging personality of Pavone - easily one of the most beloved figures on the literary landscape regionally for two decades, with a reputation for gentleness, culture and generosity - and in part, due to the
fortuitous arrival of Algren at Canio's doorstep a few months after he had moved into town.

"When Canio Pavone first opened, Algren lived around the corner and donated his books to help get the shop started," notes Szoka, who along with co-owner Maryann Calandrille purchased the bookstore from Pavone upon his retirement in 1999. "Algren gave the first reading in May 1981 just after winning an award from the Academy of American Arts and Letters. Algren read from the green-brown tweed swivel rocker that Canio had bought at a yard sale."

It signaled the advent of a touchstone for literature on the East End of Long Island that has remained a key drop-in place for over two decades - and at the same time, was to be one of the very last public appearances for Algren, who died in Sag Harbor of a heart attack on May 9, 1981.

Algren (1909-1981) was born in Detroit, but lived for a number of years in Chicago. He won the first National Book Award for fiction in 1950 for "The Man With The Golden Arm," which was later made into a film, starring Frank Sinatra. It was Chicago which inspired Algren, like the writer James T. Farrell, more than any other city. He
depicted its drunks, pimps, prostitutes, freaks, drug addicts, prize-fighters, corrupt politicians, and hoodlums - the whole underside of urban life. One of the more well-known elements of his personal life was his trans-Atlantic love affair with the French writer Simone de Beauvoir - who was also involved with Jean Paul Sartre - which lasted
with intervals for 17 years.

In all, Algren published four novels and over fifty short stories, poetry, criticism, and travel books - including A Walk On The Wild Side.

Here's an Algren quote from "Chicago: City On The Make."

By nights when the yellow salamanders of the El bend all one way and the cold rain runs with the red-lit rain.
By the way the city's million wires are burdened only by lightest snow;
When chairs are stacked and glasses are turned and arc-lamps all are dimmed.
By days when the wind bangs alley gates ajar and the sun goes by on the wind.
By nights when the moon is an only child above the measured thunder of the cars,
you may know Chicago's heart at last.

Over the years, innumerable literary figures - from the famous to the hopeful - have rested, read and napped in the comfy old chair. "Studs Turkel, a friend of Algren, regaled customers one afternoon from the very same chair. Margaret Atwood signed books from the spot last summer," says Szoka. But as might be expected, with two decades of regular use the Nelson Algren chair has become somewhat over-comfortable, "a bit rough around the edges."

"Sad as we are to see the chair go, we're thrilled with the new cushy burgundy rocker Dan brought in," says Calandrille.

To celebrate the changing of the chairs, Canios is selling raffle tickets ($5.00 each or 6 for $25.00), probably through August 2003, for a chance to own the "Nelson Algren" chair. The drawing will coincide with an Algren appreciation night later this season.

Part of the proceeds will benefit the John Steinbeck Memorial Statue Fund in Sag Harbor. "The chair could use a new slipcover, but purists won't want to change a thread," says Calandrille. Other provisos? "You may want to note that it's losing its stuffing," she notes. Also, the chair will have to be picked up in Sag Harbor by the winner. "We won't be able to deliver it, I'm afraid."

Other than that, it's a treasure for those who have an appreciation for such things. "It would make a great conversation piece in a guest cottage, library, or den, and be the envy of Algren fans everywhere,"
says Calandrille.

Raffling off "Nelson Algren's Chair" - and the appreciation night - is not the only way that Canio's Books is engaged in presreving the legacy of its famous patron. Algren titles currently in the shop include Man with the Golden Arm and Never Come Morning. "We also have an out of print collectible by Algren entitled America Eats, ($20.) a report on the foodways of the Midwest, a project sponsored by the WPA," says Szoka.



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