The poster of Shakespeare and Company on my wall on Dog Ears Books was purchased for me from a friend on his first trip to Paris, and he went to a great deal of trouble to get it back to Northport. Only when we took it out of the tube and inspected it thoroughly did the two of us see that the poster had been printed in someplace like Wichita, Kansas. (I’m not taking it off the wall to check, but it was definitely “someplace like” Wichita.) It didn’t matter. It was Paris, it was an iconic bookstore, and the poster was a lovely gift that I still enjoy on a daily basis.
Every American who visits Paris must pay respects to Shakespeare and Company. Many of those who do so are under the illusion that they are visiting Sylvia Beach’s historic bookstore, famous before World War II for welcoming the likes of James Joyce, Gertrude Stein, Hemingway, Ezra Pound and others. George Whitman’s store, opened in 1948, took its name from that of its illustrious predecessor (on a different street in the Left Bank); more importantly, Whitman followed in the tradition of Beach, welcoming writers and readers of English from all over the world. Many a hopeful, struggling writer spent the night—or even several weeks—on a sofa tucked away somewhere in Shakespeare and Company, and many well-known Beat writers, including Ted Joans, Jack Kerouac, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Allen Ginsberg, were associated at one time or another with George Whitman.
Whitman’s bookshop was not one of my regular Paris hangouts. Since English is my native language and not something I have to seek out, when in Paris (it’s been over eleven years now since my last visit) or francophone Canada, I can never get enough of hearing and speaking and reading French, and immersion in that language is my first priority. Still--of course!--I had to see what Shakespeare and Company was all about.
exigeant, n’est-ce pas?” Yes, I too thought he was asking a bit much! Did he ever read any of her work? Did she begin a journal to satisfy him? Who knows?
My artist husband also visited Shakespeare and Company on his first trip to Paris. It may have been there that he met poet Ted Joans, who invited David to come visit him at home in Timbuktu. --Okay, I checked with David on this, and it was George Whitman who introduced him to Ted Joans but not actually in the bookstore—George steered David down the street to a little park, saying there was someone he had to meet. They met a few times afterward at tea in George’s apartment and got together at a cafe once or twice, too, but David never made the trip to Timbuktu.
George Whitman died on December 14 at the age of 98 in his apartment above the bookstore. Sixty years of bookselling in Paris, France--quite a life for a boy from Massachusetts. His daughter, Sylvia Whitman (31), carries on. Thank heaven! It would be a tragedy if the iconic name Shakespeare and Company were ever to vanish from the City of Light.
P.S. I drafted this post last night at home but waited to get to the bookstore this morning and snap the poster before uploading. I mention this because it means I'm hitting the "publish" while enjoying a flaky Four Bean Rows almond croissant from Brew North across Waukazoo Street, my croissant the perfect accompaniment to memories of Paris.