Inside The She Cave: Canio’s, The Soul Of Sag Harbor — Where Books, History & Community Converge With Kathryn Szoka

“Inside the She Cave: Trailblazers, Innovators, Rule Breakers” is a podcast by Cindy Farkas Glanzrock. Cindy recently sat down with Kathryn Szoka of Canio’s Books in Sag Harbor. Here, we share part of the conversation as they discuss the preservation of the Steinbeck House, Canio’s Cultural Cafe, the book ‘Sag Harbor Is: A Literary Celebration,’ and more.

Cindy Farkas Glanzrock: Kathryn, Welcome to “Inside the She Cave: Trailblazers, Innovators, Rule Breakers.” As an innovator, it’s remarkable what you accomplished in opening the Steinbeck House. As a rule breaker, you are not tearing things down, you’re building things up. There are people in the Hamptons who want something bigger, whether it’s a McMansion or a bigger…. restaurant, bookstore, farmhouse.

Kathryn Szoka: If I had followed the rules, the Steinbeck House would have never been preserved. When I started the drive to preserve the house, everybody said it would never happen. I didn’t listen and continued to pursue different avenues. But bigger is not always better – small is beautiful. The idea of being intimate, like in Canio’s books, and having that experience one-on-one or when small groups are gathered is what’s important in life.

Cindy: To see how many people you fit in that small, intimate setting and the conversations that occur there are wonderful. Could you tell us more about Canio’s? 

Kathryn: There is alchemy that occurs when you get people into a bookstore to listen to a writer. It’s a place of magic. The very first reading was by Nelson Algren in 1981 and he had just been elected to the American Academy Institute of Arts and Letters. The place was jammed. Nelson charged everybody $2. At the end, he took them all to Conca D’Oro, the pizza parlor, and bought dinner.

Kathryn Szoka and Maryann Calendrille. Photo by Bernard Gotfryd

Cindy: Are you a creative person or an innovative person naturally? Is it you or Maryann, your partner, or a combination of you as co-owners? 

Kathryn: Yes, we’re both creative and that is essential to who we are and what we bring to the community. That’s a big reason for taking over the bookstore in 1999. We never look at Canio’s as just a bookstore but as a community gathering place, so we have a lot of diverse offerings. We do readings and Zoom events frequently. And have what we call a “CSB” program, community-supported books, where people can buy a share to trade for books. 

Cindy Farkas Glanzrock and Kathryn Szoka.

Cindy: You also have an educational nonprofit, called Canio’s Cultural Cafe, which has events like the Moby-Dick Marathon. Could you tell us about it and why is it so popular? 

Kathryn: Canio’s Cultural Cafe underwrites all the educational programming we do. Canio Pavone, the original owner, launched the first Moby-Dick marathon. The book is read aloud from page one to the end, with people reading different sections. It happens in six locations in Sag Harbor and we have over 150 people read. We also have professional actors and skilled amateur actors re-enact portions of the book. 

Cindy: It’s wonderful that we have people such as yourself and Maryann, your partner, in our community. You recently worked together on the book “Sag Harbor Is: A Literary Celebration,” which she edited. Could you tell us more about this project? 

Kathryn: Maryann edited it, and it’s accompanied by my photographs of Sag Harbor. It’s an effort to encapsulate in a small volume different writings by people who have lived here or traveled through. For instance, we had Melville and Star Black, a poet who still lives here. We have a broad assortment of writers, from fiction to nonfiction and poetry.

Kathryn Szoka and Maryann Calendrille, in Canios. Photo by Michael Heller

Cindy: At his funeral, Elaine Steinbeck turned to someone and said, “Please don’t let people forget about John.” There were not many people there, and it was upsetting to her. And here you have his house, 55 years later, preserved. So her dream came true!

Kathryn: Steinbeck’s popularity waned later in life after being extremely popular. But a big part of the reason he was awarded the Nobel Prize was because of the work that he did in Sag Harbor. To me, it was almost a moral imperative for a bookseller, like myself, to champion the preservation of his home in Sag Harbor. 

Cindy: Thank you, Kathryn. We need goodness and kindness in the world and to be able to talk and share, whether it’s through books or conversations. Thank you for keeping the bookstore alive and well. And thank you for being here and visiting us inside the She Cave! 

This discussion has been edited and condensed. Listen to the full interview on the Inside the She Cave: Trailblazers, Innovators, Rule Breakers podcast episode: “Canio’s, The Soul of Sag Harbor: Where Books, History and Community Converge with Kathryn Szoka”.

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