DITL: Danny Caine, Raven Book Store owner.jpg

Danny Caine is the owner of The Raven Book Store in downtown Lawrence. Caine, along with the Lawrence and KU community, has collaborated in organizing the city's first major literary festival, Paper Plains Festival. 

The Raven Book Store has been around for 31 years on the corner of 7th and Massachusetts Streets. Danny Caine, a University of Kansas graduate and published poet, bought the store in August 2017.

Caine went from chaperoning high school dances in Smithville, Ohio, to owning the Raven Book Store, while getting a couple degrees and publishing a few poems along the way.

He arrives to his store around 9 a.m. every day. He spends the first half of his days doing restock orders based on what was sold the day before, managing the Raven’s social media accounts, and unpacking new books.

His afternoons are often less structured. He might go to a meeting, do an interview, or make a visit to Lawrence High School to speak at the Young Writers Club after school.

“There's some routine and structure to the day but not enough to drive me crazy,” Caine said.

The Dream Job

After receiving his undergraduate degree at The College of Wooster in Cleveland, Ohio, Caine taught high school English for three years in the small town of Smithville, Ohio.

Because every teacher was required to have school duties in addition to teaching, Caine, who had the lowest seniority among his colleagues, was required to chaperone the school dances. As he fell out of love with teaching, he also realized calling parents and asking permission for their children to leave the dance wasn’t exactly what he wanted to do.

“I started to think, ‘Maybe it’s just not the right job for me,’” Caine said.

Caine moved back to Cleveland to pursue a master's degree in English at John Carroll University, where he began writing and publishing poetry for the first time.

He then wanted to get into creative writing and poetry, so he, along with his wife, applied to graduate school at the University of Kansas. They found Lawrence’s bookstores and the offers from the University hard to resist, so they moved to Kansas.

While pursuing an MFA in poetry at the University, Caine landed a part-time job at the Raven Book Store.

“The more I worked here, the more I loved it. I got into ordering. I got into event planning. I got into all the elements of the business,” Caine said. “As I approached the end of my degree, I realized I didn't want to teach anymore, so I kind of needed a job.”

When the owner at the time, Heidi Raak, began talking about retiring, there was an opportunity for Caine to fulfill his dream job of owning his own bookstore.

“It was always kind of in the back of my mind as something I would love to do, but at the same time it seemed extremely unlikely,” Caine said. “In a way, I got really lucky because the people who owned it before me did a lot of the work and they did a lot of work to set this up as kind of a Lawrence institution.”

Advocacy in Lawrence

One thing Caine wanted to work on was uniting the Raven with other Lawrence institutions to advocate for art and literature in the community. The Raven has collaborated on events with the Lawrence Arts Center, Lawrence Public Library and KU Commons.

In the fall of 2017, Caine began working with Emily Ryan, director of KU Commons, on a speaker series. The Raven and KU Commons bring three or four acclaimed authors to Lawrence each year to speak at Liberty Hall.

“After Danny bought the store and started pushing to have social justice as a voiced goal of his programming, I thought about this speaker series as a real way to connect campus and community with spectacular writers,” Ryan said. “Representation is a big priority when we invite speakers for The Commons, and Danny was invested in that as well.”

Ryan said the idea behind the speaker series is to connect the community with artists who often embody identities that are significantly underrepresented in higher education, in order to “create community with our community.”

Through these partnerships, Caine wants to create change and advocacy in Lawrence, and keep art and literature at the top of community conversations.

“I believe in diversifying representation in what people read and who gets behind microphones in Lawrence,” Caine said. “I think it’s important to do what I can to amplify marginalized voices.”

Caine said he wants people to engage in the art being made and consumed by varieties of people, and see Lawrence as a cultural capital of Kansas.

“Lawrence is an interesting and vibrant place full of art, and I’m going to do what I can to just be loud about that,” Caine said. “One way to amplify that message is to unite — to get together with the Arts Center, with the Commons, with the library, with all these organizations with similar interests.”

Finding Time for Poetry

When he’s not running the Raven, advocating for Lawrence art or changing the diapers of his 5-month-old son, Caine is at the La Prima Tazza coffee shop during the last hour of his work day, with a laptop and a cup of coffee, working on his poetry.

“Having a kid and owning a business, my writing time shrinks,” Caine said. “Instead of being able to sit down for six hours and work on something, I’ll have a bunch of little like 15-minute chunks. My life is more suited to a poetry schedule now.”

Caine compared poetry to an artist’s collage or an impressionist painting.

“If you look at it up close you don’t get the whole picture, but if you can zoom back, all these little pieces unite to make a bigger picture,” Caine said. “Telling a large story in small parts is really interesting to me. In the books that I’ve written, I think that’s kind of what I’m going for.”

Currently, Caine is working on a book of poems, in collaboration with photographer Tara Wray, titled “El Dorado Freddy’s.” The book is a collection of 30 poems, each about a different chain restaurant. Each poem works as a review of the restaurant and the food Caine ate there, but also as a poem on its own.

In a weird way, Caine said, the collection of poems is a memoir of early fatherhood. He started writing the poems when his wife was pregnant with their first child.

“I think, in a lot of ways, how people think about food and where they go to eat changes after you have a kid. It’s a lot easier to take a baby to Wendy’s than it is, like, Merchants,” Caine said. “Through these funny little poems about chain restaurants you get a picture of someone coming to terms with being a dad.”

As a writer, Caine is interested in pop culture and consumer culture, both as an ode and a critique.

The feeling that interests him most in writing is ambivalence — not being sure how to feel about something. But with poetry, Caine can sometimes find that feeling along the way.

“I think all writing can invite you to self-discovery, but with a poem it happens quicker because a poem is shorter,” Caine said. “I can’t imagine writing a novel. I’m sure there are people that start writing a novel and have no idea how it’s going to end, but as a writer I think I would need to know how it would end.”