Why Shakespeare & Company?

If you’re heading to Paris anytime soon, are you considering SHAKESPEARE & COMPANY for your itinerary?

Here’s some information on the iconic Parisian bookstore.

  1. The original bookstore was opened by American Sylvia Beach in 1919 and it was located at 8 rue Dupuytren.
  2. When a bigger more desirable building around the corner on 12 rue de l’Odeon became available, Ms. Beach moved her store to that location.
  3. Don’t be mistaken into thinking the present day store is one and the same with the one that Sylvia Beach ran…it is not. It is however, most definitely, an homage to that store.
  4. Sylvia Beach published James Joyce‘s Ulysses out of Shakespeare & Company. You can read about this and Ms. Beach’s life in Shakespeare & Company…a memoir she herself penned.
Ms. Beach penned a memoir about her store and the publication of Ulysses. It’s written in a simple and conversational tone and you may not fall in love with it. It has a very ‘and then this happened, and then this happened…’ feeling. She was offering the history.

If you would like to read Sylvia Beach’s story written as historical fiction (it is extremely accurate) in a captivating literary voice, pick up THE PARIS BOOKSELLER by Kerri Maher. It’s Sylvia’s story, well told.

The Paris Bookseller is an excellent read! A novel that perfectly encapsulates Sylvia Beach’s story…

Wait! There’s more. We’re not yet geographically close to the current day bookstore ALSO KNOWN AS Shakespeare & Company!

It was Sylvia Beach’s store over on rue de l’Odeon that had such literati in attendance as F Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein, Djuna Barnes, Ford Maddox Ford, James Joyce and others.

The original store was mentioned in Ernest Hemingway’s A MOVEABLE FEAST. He was quite touched at how quickly Ms. Beach welcomed him. She allowed him to enter the bookstore’s lending library before he paid the fee. You get the sense from his words that she took him under her wing. Her store actually served as a sort of post office for the expat writers who frequented it…a home away from home.

Beach was imprisoned by the Nazis during the war. In 1941, during the occupation, the store closed. When Beach was released, she was ill…and she never re-opened the store.

Ten years later, George Whitman, an American ex-serviceman and communist at heart opened the present day Shakespeare & Company location under the name of “Le Mistral”.

Le Mistral was a stomping ground for the next generation of writers…the BEAT and beyond. Everyone from Allen Ginsberg to Gregory Corso to William S. Burroughs haunted this new location in the shadow of Notre-Dame Cathedral…not yet named Shakespeare & Company. Also present were James Baldwin, Lawrence Durrell, George Plimpton, and many many more.

George Whitman modeled Le Mistral after Shakespeare & Company and it was with Ms. Beach’s blessing that he eventually changed the name of his bookstore to Shakespeare & Company. Though it’s believed the blessing happened in 1958, it wasn’t until after Beach’s death in 1964 that the name change became official.

Sylvia Whitman, George’s daughter, now runs the bookstore. She has found many ways to move Shakespeare & Company into the 21st century. Speaking of which, don’t miss the store’s podcast!


The current Shakespeare & Company has ‘housed’ writers throughout its existence. They still host writers to this day. If you visit the store, you might be served by one of these visiting writers…literary wanderers neither lost nor found. They even have a name. They are called TUMBLEWEEDS…for the way they tumble into the store and float around there.

The evolution of Shakespeare & Company…
The famous facade of the current incarnation of SHAKESPEARE & COMPANY on 37 rue de la Bûcherie…in the shadow of the cathedral.

Why visit Shakespeare & Company? It’s a literary landmark that connects Paris to North America like no other. J. R. R. Tolkien once said, “All those who wander are not lost.” If history (and the history of Shakespeare & Company) is any indication, all those writers who wander through Paris have found themselves, at one time or another, at one incarnation of this iconic bookstore or another. Either they visited Ms. Beach, or Mr. Whitman, or Ms. Whitman. And if you are literary-minded, you might want to wander in their footsteps. Between the three stores, there is so much history! Even this latest incarnation has an incredible amount of history.

There are many wonderful rooms upstairs at Shakespeare & Company, filled with old books, and desks, and lounges, and pianos, and cats.

For a full and comprehensive history of the bookstore, this book, A HISTORY OF THE RAG & BONE SHOP OF THE HEART, is a must-have TREASURE! It’s a biography of the store and it opens up to the reader like the store itself, with many nooks and crannies and surprises. It’s well worth the price of admission. DON’T FORGET TO GET THE STORE STAMP EMBOSSED IN YOUR BOOK PURCHASES!

If you’re a book geek, you will want to stop by Shakespeare. They have a first edition room, as well, if you are a collector. And in recent years, they even opened a cafe. If you’re literary minded, don’t ask WHY SHAKESPEARE & COMPANY? Ask WHY NOT?

It’s worth the line-up to immerse yourself in literary history…

The more you learn about its history, the more this magical maze of a store will appeal to you…and open up to you!

(Jump to OUR DAY OF THE DEAD IN THE CITY OF LIGHT to discover our itinerary of death in Paris!)

By Kevin Craig

Author, Poet, Playwright. Author of The Camino Club, Billions of Beautiful Hearts, and Book of Dreams, all from Duet Books, the LGBTQ Young Adult imprint of Chicago Review Press. Other books: Pride Must Be A Place, Half Dead & Fully Broken, Burn Baby Burn Baby, The Reasons, Sebastian's Poet, and Summer on Fire.

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