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George Whitman, 1913 – 2011

By Harriet Staff

George Whitman, the owner of Shakespeare & Company, a legendary English language bookshop on the Left Bank in Paris, died yesterday at the age of 98. From his recent obituary in the New York Times:

More than a distributor of books, Mr. Whitman saw himself as patron of a literary haven, above all in the lean years after World War II, and the heir to Sylvia Beach, the founder of the original Shakespeare & Company, the celebrated haunt of Hemingway and James Joyce.

As Mr. Whitman put it, “I wanted a bookstore because the book business is the business of life.”

Whitman’s hospitality was legendary. According to the obituary, a large sign on the wall of the bookstore quoted Yeats: “Be not inhospitable to strangers, lest they be angels in disguise.” Whitman estimated that he offered lodging to over 40,000 young writers and wanderers since he took over the store in 1951. Those lodgers included some of the brightest literary lights of the last sixty years:

Its visitors list reads like a Who’s Who of American, English, French and Latin American literature: Henry Miller, Anaïs Nin, Samuel Beckett and James Baldwin were frequent callers in the early days; other regulars included Lawrence Durrell and the Beat writers William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg and Gregory Corso, all of them Mr. Whitman’s friends.

Read the full obituary here and check out Shakespeare & Company’s own remembrance here.


Posted in Uncategorized on Thursday, December 15th, 2011 by Harriet Staff.