Shakespeare and Company is an independent bookstore located in the 5th arrondissement, in Paris's Left Bank. Shakespeare and Company serves as both a bookstore and a reading library, specializing in English-language literature. The bookstore also houses young writers, known as "tumbleweeds," who earn their keep by working in the shop for a couple of hours each day. The current store is named after and in honour of an earlier store which closed during World War II.
The original bookstore's proprietor was Sylvia Beach. It opened in 1919 and was located at 8 rue Dupuytren. In May 1921, Beach moved the store to a larger location at 12 rue de l'Odéon, where it remained until 1941. During this era, the store was considered to be a center of Anglo/American literary culture in Paris. The shop was often visited by artists of the "Lost Generation," such as Ernest Hemingway, Ezra Pound, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, George Antheil, Man Ray and James Joyce. The contents of the store were considered high quality and reflected Beach's own literary taste. Shakespeare and Company, as well as its literary denizens, was repeatedly mentioned in Hemingway's A Moveable Feast. Patrons could buy or borrow books like D. H. Lawrence's controversial Lady Chatterley's Lover, which had been banned in England and the United States.
Beach initially published Joyce's book Ulysses in 1922. The book was subsequently banned in the United States and in the United Kingdom. The original Shakespeare and Company published several other editions of Ulysses under its imprint in later years.
The Shakespeare and Company store on rue de l'Odeon was closed in December 1941, due to the occupation of France by the Axis powers during World War II. Allegedly, the store was ordered shut because Beach denied a German officer the last copy of Joyce's Finnegans Wake. The store at rue de l'Odéon never re-opened.
In 1951, another English-language bookstore was opened in Paris's Left Bank by an American George Whitman, under the name of Le Mistral. Much like the original Shakespeare and Company, the store served as a focal point for literary culture in Bohemian, Left Bank Paris. Upon Sylvia Beach's death, the store's name was changed to Shakespeare and Company. In the 1950s, the shop served as a base for many of the writers of the Beat Generation, such as Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, and William Burroughs. Whitman's daughter, Sylvia, now runs the shop (see below). This store continues to operate at 37 rue de la Bûcherie, near Place St. Michel and steps from the Seine River.
George Whitman has been running what he calls "a socialist utopia masquerading as a bookstore" for 50 years. His store has long been a literary hub, attracting the likes of Henry Miller, Richard Wright and William S.Burroughs. More importantly, George has been inviting people to live in his shop from its very first days. There are now 13 beds [sic] among the books, and he says that more than 40,000 people have slept there at one time or another. All he asks is that you make your bed in the morning, help out in the shop, and read a book a day. After living here for five months, I was inspired to write my own book about the place.
Regular activities that happen in the bookshop are Sunday Tea, Poetry readings and Writers meetings (informal & formal)
George Whitman's daughter, Sylvia Whitman, has now taken over the day-to-day running of the shop, and continues to run the store in the same manner as her father allowing young writers to live and work in the shop.