The Living Legacy of Shakespeare & Company
This is certainly not the first time I’ve written about the Shakespeare & Co. bookstore and I doubt it will be the last. I’ve sat on a stool crammed between other intent listeners on the first floor of the ancient shop overlooking the Seine to hear a writer’s important words on so many occasions there is no hope to count them. Perhaps even you are bored with reading so much about this tiny corner of Paris that has become over the years, since George Whitman opened it in 1951, the center of American activity and history in the City of Light.
Every Monday night, Shakespeare & Co. sponsors a reading…by someone, usually of note. This past Monday, authors Meredith Mullins (“In a Paris Moment“) and Maxine Rose Shur (“Places in Time“) presented their words and works before the usual standing-room-only crowd nestled among the collection of books that are signed “These Books are Not for Sale.”
They were delightful, fascinating and enlightening, but the real star is the living legacy of Shakespeare & Co. — the young, pale-skinned, wispy blonde-haired damsel who really runs the show — Sylvia Beach Whitman.
When I first met Sylvia not long after she returned to Paris following her education in England to help her father run the store, she was a mere 22 years of age; George was pushing 90 then. I remember my exact words: “Why you can’t possibly be George’s daughter!” And I became infatuated that very moment with this stunningly beautiful, bright, enthusiastic, mature and clearly good-hearted young woman whose aura cast a glow on the dimly lit shop like a lantern in the night.
Since that time, Sylvia, who carries the namesake of her predecessor, Sylvia Beach, the first owner of the famous bookstore which was originally situated on rue de l’Odéon not far away, not only carries the torch for those before her, but is creating a whole new wave of energy and excitement surrounding the English language literary community in Paris.
Sylvia never stops making improvements to the facility, creating new ways of communicating with her customers and fans, stocking a more complete inventory of books, plus bringing the community together, all while keeping her aging father satisfied that his offspring, both the shop and Sylvia, are prospering.
This coming June 15 – 18, 2006, Sylvia is spearheading a Four Day Literary Celebration entitled “Travel in Words,” the second festival of its kind for her to have created. It’s a massive undertaking, not unlike the first one in June of 2003 that lasted eight days celebrating the “Lost, Beat, and New Generations.”
The 2006 Festival, focusing on travel writing, will take place under a tent in the Réné Viviani park next to Shakespeare and Co. The events, which are free and open to all, feature readings, panel discussions, walking tours, writing workshops and documentary screenings. There are seventeen well-known and award-winning authors participating and a writing competition will accompany the event. Entries are being sought on the topic “Travel by Train.” Winning essays will be published in Eurostar magazine and the prize is two first class Eurostar tickets!
Making a stop at Shakespeare & Co. at 37, rue de la Bûcherie in the 5th arrondissement, facing the Seine and Notre Dame, should be on every American’s list of most important places in Paris to visit, right up there with the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Trio
mphe, if not before…and while you’re there, see if you can spy, sitting at the front desk, or working among the books, surrounded by her menagerie of pets, the city’s shining star — Sylvia Beach Whitman.
A la prochaine…
Editor, Parler Paris
Email [email protected]
P.S. We are pleased to report that registrations are flowing in and many of you are happily coming to New Orleans for the Living and Investing in France Round Table May 27th! To learn more and make your reservation to join us, for the Round Table and/or for Dinner at Tujague’s, click here.