S.F. VANNI, the first Italian bookstore in America, in business from 1884 to 2004, will reopen to launch CPL Editions, Centro Primo Levi’s publishing endeavor. The space will remain open for a special series of the center’s cultural events.
The goal is not to revive the old traditional bookstore, but to re-imagine it for today. The tradition of Italian books in New York begins with Mozart’s librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte, who first brought Italian books to NY in 1805. S.F. VANNI, opened the store (at 548 West Broadway) at the end of the 19th century; bookseller and publisher Andrea Ragusa, brought it into the 20th century on Bleecker Street and then to its present address.
Now, CPL EDITIONS- Centro Primo Levi’s e-book and print-on-demand publishing venture-a niche independent publishing initiative dedicated to the history of Italian Jews- will operate out of S.F. VANNI, in 21st century America.
For decades, thousands of dusty Italian books sat on metal shelves in the two rooms beyond the old-fashioned pale blue curtains of S.F.VANNI’s storefront. Revisited with advice from architect Bonnie Roche and designer Jonathan Wajskol the first room has become a multifunctional space for book presentations, lectures, and film screenings. The second room -with the original books sold and published by S.F. VANNI, many of them rare editions, will be preserved as ‘urban archeology’. Board member Stella Levi imagines it as something between a beit midrash and a salon, a living space where a variety of events will take place. CPL’s director Alessandro Cassin envisions it as tribute to a long tradition of Italian and Jewish family-based publishers that strongly impacted the surrounding culture.
Andrea Ragusa, bookseller and publisher, arrived in the US in 1931, on a mission: to sell the newly compiled Italian Encyclopedia (Enciclopedia Italiana Treccani), and create -through books- a bridge between Italy and the United States. Within a decade his bookstore became the main supplier of Italian books and periodicals, not only to New York City, but also to libraries and universities throughout the United States and Canada.
CPL EDITIONS, in partnership with OR BOOKS, intends to build on Ragusa’s experience and bring it into the 21st Century while preserving a locus of Italian cultural history in New York. In the process of breathing new life into this historic bookstore, CPL EDITIONS will present its six inaugural titles:
Bianca Guidetti Serra, Primo Levi, The Friend
Olga Tarcali, Return from Erfurt- Story Of a Shattered Childhood: 1935-1945
Gemma Vitale Servadio, “I Am Counting on You, On Everyone…” Eight Letters from Fossoli, 1944
Roberto Bassi, Skirmishes on Lake Ladoga- Venice to Rome: in flight from the Racial Laws
Annalisa Capristo, Gather What You Can and Flee: Jewish Intellectual Emigration From Fascist Italy
Paola Mieli, A Silver Martian- Normality and Segregation in Primo Levi’s Sleeping Beauty in the Fridge
CPL thanks Olga Ragusa for her enthusiasm, generosity and love for books.
The CPL @ S.F. VANNI’s initiative is made possible through a generous grant from Peter S. Kalikow and the ongoing support of Jeff Keil and Danielle Pinet.
Centro Primo Levi is the recipient of an endowment established by the Viterbi Family Foundation in memory of Achille and Maria Viterbi. Programs are supported by the Cahnman Foundation and Dr. Claude Ghez