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.
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
first a weekend enterprise, Canio's Books (www.caniosbooks.com)
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.
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."
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.
(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.
all, Algren published four novels and over fifty short stories,
poetry, criticism, and travel books - including A Walk On The Wild
an Algren quote from "Chicago: City On The Make."
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
When chairs are stacked and glasses are turned and arc-lamps all
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.
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."
as we are to see the chair go, we're thrilled with the new cushy
burgundy rocker Dan brought in," says Calandrille.
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.
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."
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,"
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.