Shakespeare and company is the name of two independent English language bookstore that have existed on Paris’s Left Bank, is the most famous bookstore in the world.
It was the first place to publish the entirely of James Joyce’s “Ulysses” when no one else would and for decades it has been an informal living room and sometimes a bedroom for many of the most revered figures in modern literature: Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald, Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Durrell and Anaïs Nin.
Now the English-language bookstore has published its first title, “Shakespeare and Company, Paris: A History of the Rag & Bone Shop of the Heart,” a glorious volume thick with old photographs, newspaper clippings, and reminiscences. Many celebrated writers including James Baldwin, Allen Ginsberg, and Anais Nin considered the shop their home away from home.
In 1951, George Whitman, a self-proclaimed wanderer, opened the doors to what would become the most iconic bookstore in all of Paris. After George passed away in 2011, Sylvia and David (co-owner and Sylvia’s partner) unearthed box after plastic box after wooden-wine box of bookshop ephemera of George’s. Since nothing had previously been sorted and catalogued, each document and scrap of paper and photograph had to be considered on its own. Once everything was put in chronological order, I started reading the Shakespeare and Company archive, every page, beginning from the beginning, as they say.
Shakespeare and company welcomed individuals from all walks of life: writers, painters, singers, men and women, straight and gay people. Anyone who came through the door was given the same attention.