End to an era at legendary Paris bookshop Shakespeare and Company

George Whitman, longtime owner of the beloved Shakespeare and Company, died in Paris last week.

Remy de la Mauviniere/STF/AP
Shakespeare and Company opened in 1951. Over the decades owner George Whitman sheltered thousands of itinerant writers, whom he called 'tumbleweeds,' inside his shop.

Owner of legendary Parisian bookshop Shakespeare & Company George Whitman died last week in the apartment he owned above his Paris bookstore. Whitman was 98. His English-language bookstore has been open for almost 60 years and was a favorite of Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, and scores of others.

Whitman was born in America and spent his childhood in Salem, Mass., later attending Boston University. He settled in Paris after serving in World War II and started selling books soon after, calling his store Le Mistral, but the name was soon changed to Shakespeare & Company. There had been another famous bookstore in Paris with the name, opened by American ex-pat Sylvia Beach, but Beach’s store closed while the Nazis occupied Paris. There has been debate over how and why Whitman named his store Shakespeare & Company, but historian Clive Hart recently told The New York Times that he had witnessed Beach saying publicly that she was giving Whitman the name. Whitman named his daughter, who now runs the store, Sylvia Beach Whitman.

Whitman opened the store to aspiring writers, often providing them with a place to sleep. It is estimated that he’d sheltered more than 40,000 people over his lengthy ownership of the shop. He intermittently published a magazine called The Paris Magazine, in which he published the work of authors such as Ginsberg. The French Minister of Culture gave him the Officier des Arts et Lettres award in 2006.

A statement on the store’s website said Whitman’s daughter Sylvia will continue to run the store. Passersby and visitors left candles, pieces of paper, and other tributes near the store after a sign was posted about Whitman’s death, according to The Los Angeles Times.

Molly Driscoll is a Monitor contributor.

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