John Steinbeck’s home in Long Island’s Sag Harbor may soon secure its place in literary history, thanks to an impassioned coalition of readers, writers, and booksellers. The Sag Harbor Partnership; the town of Southampton, N.Y.; and the University of Texas at Austin have joined forces to purchase Steinbeck’s beloved summer cottage, which is currently for sale for the first time in 60 years. The goal: to preserve the property to use as a writers retreat, hosted by UT Austin’s Michener Center for Writers.

The coalition is nearing its monetary goal, and the Sag Harbor Partnership is now in the midst of its final fundraising push. As of this writing, through a combination of public and private funds, the Sag Harbor Partnership’s bid has been accepted by the seller, and now the organization needs to raise $90,000 by the closing date of March 30 to complete its purchase of the $13.5 million property.

Steinbeck bought the cottage, located on secluded Bluff Point Lane, in 1955 and spent summers there until his death in 1968. He filled his days there with fishing and writing. In his 1962 book Travels with Charley, he referred to the home as “my little fishing place,” and he completed his final novel—The Winter of Our Discontent, set in a fictional coastal town modeled on Sag Harbor—there. The 1.8-acre waterfront property includes the one-story wood-shingled cottage, a pier, and a small gazebo that Steinbeck used as a writing studio.

When the property went up for sale in 2021, local bookseller Kathryn Szoka sprung into action. Szoka, who is the co-owner of Canio’s Bookstore in Sag Harbor, believed the community had on its hands a “national treasure” worth preserving. “I called everyone I knew who could guide and advise me,” she said, and began strategizing with community leaders, local politicians, and Steinbeck scholars.

Soon she launched an online petition to convert the property into a writers retreat with limited visitation and community access. Within weeks, the petition garnered more than 30,000 signatures. Szoka then teamed with writer John Avlon and artist April Gornik, who live in Sag Harbor, to form the Steinbeck House Committee, which quickly drew Colson Whitehead, another local resident, as honorary chair. Before long, the nonprofit Sag Harbor Partnership signed on to support the committee’s fundraising efforts.

Next, UT Austin, which currently houses an extensive collection of Steinbeck’s archives, was brought on board to facilitate the planned writers retreat. The Michener Center for Writers, the university’s MFA program, proved the ideal steward for the retreat. Michener Center director Bret Anthony Johnston said that when he was first approached by the committee, he revisited Steinbeck’s oeuvre and several biographies, which impressed upon him “how important community was to Steinbeck, including both Sag Harbor and the community he made with the writers he admired.”

Johnston believes that a writers retreat in Steinbeck’s name will carry on the author’s own legacy of supporting early-career writers. When Steinbeck won the Pulitzer Prize for The Grapes of Wrath in 1940, he gave his $1,000 in prize money to an aspiring writer to help him finish his first novel. “That level of support—that commitment to writers and the work they’re making—is the bar he’s set for us,” Johnston said, “and it’s the model that we should use to honor his legacy as a writer.”

While it’s still too early to describe the specifics of the retreat, Johnston envisions the residencies will be available for both early-career writers and established authors. “When we assemble a jury to select residents, we would—again, following Steinbeck’s example—prioritize inclusivity and diversity, artistic excellence and literary promise, and of course community engagement,” he said. “We want Sag Harbor to embrace the writers, and we want the writers to spend time in the community that was so important to Steinbeck.”

The campaign has gained traction in the past two years, and in February, Southampton voted to contribute $11.2 million from its Community Preservation Fund to the project. This is not the first time residents have mobilized to commemorate Steinbeck: in 2019, Sag Harbor opened the 1.25-acre John Steinbeck Waterfront Park.

“We believe that this is a win-win for everybody,” said Diana Howard, a member of the Sag Harbor Partnership. “We would preserve this piece of literary and cultural history, the property would be open by appointment to visitors, and Steinbeck’s home would be used to foster a new generation of authors.”

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