Be not inhospitable to strangers lest they be angels in disguise. ~ George Whitman
In 1919 American expat Sylvia Beach opened Shakespeare and Company, an English language bookstore in Paris. It was the place to be for all of the Lost Generation artists in the 1920’s and 30’s. Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein, James Joyce and Man Ray were all regulars. Unfortunately the bookshop had to close in 1941 during the occupation of Paris.
In 1951 George Whitman opened his own English language bookstore on the Left Bank of Paris, just across from Notre Dame Cathedral. Although it was originally called Le Mistral, he later changed it to Shakespeare and Company in honor of his friend Sylvia Beach.
Since it’s opening Whitman has offered artists and writers, “tumbleweeds” as he calls them, a place to sleep upstairs in his store in exchange for working an hour a day, writing a one-page autobiography and/or reading a book a day.
Many famous writers have either lived at Shakespeare and Company, shopped there or attended Whitman’s legendary tea and pancake parties, including some of my all time favorite writers – Anais Nin, Henry Miller and the Beat Generation writers Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg.
Molly Crabapple is one of those artists. When she was only 17 years old, before she became a successful illustrator, Molly lived at Shakespeare and Company.
This is the bench where Molly slept for months during her stay at Shakespeare and Company. During our photo shoot, Molly told me that she first learned to draw at Shakespeare and Company.
Upstairs is the reading room. The books are not for sale but visitors are encouraged to find a cozy spot on a sofa and read. Many of these books came from Simone de Beauvoir, Jean-Paul Sartre and Sylvia Beach’s personal collections.
Whitman is now 97 years old and retired. He still lives above the store and continues to host Sunday tea parties. His daughter Sylvia Beach Whitman, named after his dear friend, now runs the store. To this day, writers are still welcome to stay at this magical bookshop in Paris…
This is the creed of Hotel Tumbleweed
give what you can, take what you need ~ George Whitman