This venerable literary shrine is so popular with tourists that you may have to wait to get in because of the store’s limited capacity. Run by George Whitman for some 60 years before he passed away in 2011 at 98, it’s helmed today by his daughter, Sylvia, who was named after Sylvia Beach (who founded the original bookshop in 1919; see below). Many legendary writers (Allen Ginsberg and Henry Miller, to name a couple) have stopped in over the decades for a cup of tea; many an aspiring author has camped out in one of the back rooms. Check the website for readings and events.
Sylvia Beach—Mother of the Lost Generation
Born in Baltimore in 1887, Sylvia Beach fell in love with Paris early in life and moved there for good at the end of World War I. A few years later, with the encouragement of her companion, bookshop owner Adrienne Monier, Beach opened Shakespeare & Company, a bookstore and lending library specializing in English and American books.
For the next 20 years, the shop at 8 rue Dupuytren served as an unofficial welcome center for American and English visitors, particularly literary ones, and specifically those who would later come to be known as members of "The Lost Generation": T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, and Ernest Hemingway.
But the one who made the biggest impression, literally, was James Joyce. After his novel “Ulysses” was banned in both the U.S. and England and no publisher would touch the manuscript, Beach courageously published it herself. In February 1922, after endless proofs and corrections by the author, the 1,000 copies arrived in the store, all of which were snapped up instantaneously. Later, the book became a modern classic, making a mint for its publisher, Random House. Beach never saw a penny but claimed that she didn’t mind because she’d have done anything for Joyce and his art.
In 1941, during the Nazi occupation of Paris, the contents of the entire bookstore "vanished" overnight (hidden in a vacant apartment in the same building) to avoid confiscation by the Germans. The books were saved, but Beach spent 6 months in an internment camp. After the war, she returned to Paris, but the bookshop’s doors never reopened. The store’s memory lives on, however, in its more recent incarnation at 37 rue de la Bûcherie.