An Anglo-American Bookstore in Paris
By Nils Visser
Shakespeare and Company, a Parisian tradition and a Walhalla of English literature to be sure.
The first store was opened by Sylvia Beach in 1919. Writers such as Ezra Pound, Ernest Hemingway, Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, James Joyce and Ford Madox Ford came here to discuss, argue, breathe and write literature. Joyce was well known for using the place as an alternative office, Beach was the first to publish his Ulysses. They were allowed to sleep and eat at the store, one of the reasons it became a haven for authors in transit. A number of these authors were known as the Lost Generation. The store is referred to or mentioned in some of Hemingway's work (particularly A Movable Feast) and features in the movies Before Sunset and Midnight in Paris.
The store was closed by the Germans during the occupation.
Typically, Hemingway, a major in the US army, drove his tank straight to Shakespeare and Company to personally liberate Beach and the bookstore during the liberation of Paris in 1945.
However the store stayed closed until 1962 when George Whitman reopened it at the current address, and the chance for penniless writers to live in it provided they read one book a day (the store still has 13 sleeping places in it). A new generation of writers lived or frequented the store, including Lawrence Durell, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Henry Miller, Anaïs Nin and William Burroughs. Contemporary authors attend the literary festivals organized there by Whitman’s daughter Sylvia Beach Whitman, such as Paul Aster, Siri Hustvedt, Jeanette Winterson, Jung Chang and Marjane Satrapi.
It is an incredible place, a literary shrine and unique in every sense of the word, I know no other place like it. I seriously advise you to visit the place if you're in Paris. It's more or less straight opposite the Notre Dame, across the Seine that is, surrounded by terraces and more often than not offering some quality busking outside to enhance the general flavour.