It’s impossible to write about places to visit in Paris without talking about Shakespeare and Company. It’s a landmark, a piece of literary and Parisian history, an institution, a place of pilgrimage for young writers and literature lovers from all over the world, and now with the recent opening of their new café, a wonderful place to hang out and enjoy good food and great books.
The original Shakespeare and Company was founded in 1919 by an American, Sylvia Beach, on the rue de l’Odeon in the 6th arrondissement. Selling English language books, her shop became a meeting place for the writers of the ‘Lost Generation’ who flocked to Paris in the 1920s – Ernest Hemingway, F Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, TS Eliot, Ezra Pound and many more, including perhaps most famously James Joyce, whose Ulysses she published for the first time in 1922 – nobody was prepared to publish it at the time. The shop you see today was opened in 1951 by another American, Geroge Whitman, and it also quickly became a mecca for writers of the Beat Generation such as Allen Ginsberg and William S Burroughs. In fact over 30,000 aspiring writers, or ‘Tumbleweeds’ as they are known, have stayed there over the years, the bookshop provides them with a free room in return for helping around the shop and reading a book a day! Don’t miss the motto above the door: ‘Be not inhospitable to strangers, lest they be angels in disguise’.
More recently, George Whitman’s dream of opening a literary café in the building next door, has been realised by his daughter Sylvia Beach Whitman, who now runs the bookshop. The café was opened in partnership with the popular Bob’s Bake Shop, serving mainly vegetarian food, good coffee, and George’s special recipe lemon pie.
It’s hard to do justice to such a fascinating and historic place as Shakespeare & Company in a short blog post. If you are interested in learning more about it I recommend you read this Vanity Fair article or check out the history section on the bookshop’s website. A great book I can also highly recommend is ‘Sylvia Beach and the Lost Generation – A History of Literary Paris in the Twenties and Thirties’ by Noel Riley Fitch.
Better still, drop in when you are in Paris, lose yourself amongst the thousands of books and the many rooms and corridors of the shop, or attend a poetry reading or a talk by a writer – you’ll soon feel the magic of this very special place.
- Shakespeare and Company Bookshop, 37 rue de la Bucherie, 75005 Paris. metro: St Michel
The main shop is open daily 10:00 – 23:00. The café is open Mon-Fri 9:30 – 19:00, Sat and Sun 9:30 – 20:00
Shakespeare & Company website