Tucked away on Paris’s left bank, perched on cobblestone providing some quiet from the chatter of cafés nearby, is the bookstore Shakespeare and Company.
Next to Notre Dame, Shakespeare and Company specializes in English-language literature. There are two separate shops, one with vintage and antiquarian books and the other with new books for sale, ranging from classics to contemporary
Shakespeare and Company serves as a Mecca of sorts for book lovers and writers alike.
The setting alone is sure to make any bookworm giddy. Books of all genres fill every nook and cranny. Typewriters hide on top of desks and in little corners of the store.
But it’s the history of writers who gathered here and its continued presence in Paris that makes it such a worthwhile stop for any tourist or visitor.
An American expatriate, Sylvia Beach, initially established the bookstore in 1919 on rue Dupuytren. She later moved the store to rue de l’Odéon in 1922, where it remained until 1940.
In the beginning, it was both a lending library as well as a bookstore.
During this time, the store served as a meeting place for discussion, collaboration and the basic exchange of ideas and conversation for writers and artists of the Lost Generation. F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein were among the crowd of writers who frequented the bookstore.
The original Shakespeare and Company was forced to close because of the German occupation of Paris in 1940 during World War II. Hemingway, at the end of the war, “liberated” the store, but it never officially reopened.
Disguised with the name Le Mistral, American George Whitman opened another English bookstore on the left bank of Paris in 1951.
Just as the original Shakespeare and Company had served as a focal point for the Lost Generation, this new location served as a focal point for many Beat Generation writers.
After Beach passed away in 1962, Whitman changed the name of his store to Shakespeare and Company as a tribute to her original bookstore. Whitman’s daughter, Sylvia Whitman, now runs the store.
Today, the store continues to run similarly, allowing young writers to work in the bookstore. There are daily and weekly events, such as readings, talks and discussions.
Additionally, different festivals attract literary experts and students alike.
Now, as aspiring writers make their way through the bookstore, they are likely to think of all the great authors who occupied the same space.
As you cozy up in a corner, it’s funny to think William S. Burroughs might have been chatting with Allen Ginsberg in that same spot.