What It’s Like to Live Inside the Legendary Paris Bookstore Shakespeare & Co. By Harriet Alida Lye

Harriet Alida Lye - writer in residence at Shakespeare and Co

George Whitman opened the legendary bookshop now known as Shakespeare and Company in the shadow of Notre Dame in Paris in 1951, and having spent all his money on the shop he slept on a pullout couch among the books. He insisted on giving it up, though, if a writer came by and needed a place to stay. (He often asked writers to sleep there even if they didn’t need a place to stay.) Soon, he started housing several writers at a time, either published or aspiring, and these literary vagabonds came to be known as the Tumbleweeds.

“Several million persons have walked in our door like tumbleweeds drifting in the wind,” George wrote in his letter from the editor in the second edition of The Paris Magazine, published by the bookshop in 1984, “and then walked out, their innocence lost, as free citizens of the cosmos.” He believed “we’re all homeless wanderers in a way,” and over the years, Shakespeare & Co. has welcomed wandering writers such as Allen Ginsberg, Anaïs Nin, James Baldwin, Julio Cortázar, Darren Aronofsky, and Dave Eggers.

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About Sylvia

Sylvia Whitman has been the proprietor of Shakespeare and Company since 2006. She took up the reins from her father, George Whitman, who founded the bookstore in 1951.