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 George Whitman as a young man :
Shakespeare and Company 

As a follow on to my previous post, asking if Americans still took part in the literary and artistic life of Paris, I note with sadness the passing of George Whitman, who ran a bookshop in Paris.

“Running a bookshop” though is poor summary of George or “Shakespeare and Company” which, for over fifty years, has been an extraordinary part of life in Paris.

George Whitman died on 14th December at the age of 98.  He had run this bookshop, as a drop in centre for authors where it doubled up as a hostel for penniless itinerant authors and would be writers, self help society, literary institution and salon to the great and the interested.  It lies on the left back of the Seine opposite Notre Dame, at 37 rue de la Bucherie 75005.

You could stay, sleeping at night between the stacks of books in return for cleaning up the place, building or repairing shelving, helping out and stacking shelves.  People did readings and even typed away in the shop on their latest works.  It has the insane feeling of a University library, tutorial seminar and workshop all at the same time.  He lived by the dictum written on the walls : “Be not inhospitable to strangers lest they be angels in disguise”.

A summer’s afternoon at Shakespeare and Company:
from its web-site

George was an oligarch, albeit with a human face, whom, it was said was the great nephew of Walt Whitman.  He had been born in New Jersey, and migrated to Paris where he set up a book shop in the early 1950’s.  He changed its name to Shakespeare and Company in honour of Sylvia Beaches who had a similar establishment of the same name.  Everyone who was anyone has passed through its doors from Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg to Henry Miller, Anaiis Nin and Lawrence Durrell.

His daughter Sylvia continues to run the shop.

Copyright David Macadam 2011

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