If you are a bookworm, then visiting the Shakespeare and Co. bookstore in Paris must be in your travel list. The bookstore is known world wide, or Europe at least, as the bookstore which specializes in English books. Throughout the history, there are two Shakespeare and Co. bookstores in Paris so do not mistaken one with another or think that they are the same.
The first one was already closed down in 1941 during World War II. It was located at 12 rue de l’Odeon in the 6th arrondissement. The second one is the one which still stands until now located in 5th arrondissement on the Left Bank river. It is exclusively located right across the famous Notre-Dame of Paris.
The Original Bookstore
The original Shakespeare and Co. was a bookstore and library opened by Sylvia Beach on 1919. Sylvia Beach herself was an American expatriate from New Jersey who lived in Paris. Originally, the bookstore was opened at 8 rue Dupuytren before it was moved to its latest address.
What was so special about this original Shakespeare and Co. bookstore was that it was not just a place where people could buy and borrow books in Paris, but it also held historical value as the place where famous legendary writers such as Ernest Hemingway, Ezra Pound, James Joyce, Gertrude Stein, and Ford Madox Ford gathered in 1920s.
With famous writers as frequent visitors, Shakespeare and Co. is featured in some works of those writers such as in Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast. The place was also once used as James Joyce as his office, and became the place where banned English books like Joyce’s Ulysses and Lady Chatterley’s Lover.
Unfortunately, after its closing down in 1941, the bookstore is never re-opened until today. The rumor says that the bookstore was closed down by the Germans because it once denied a German officer of Joyce’s Finnegans Wake last copy.
The Second Bookstore
So, does it mean that there is no real Shakespeare and Co. bookstore that you can visit today when you are visiting Paris? Fortunately, George Whitman, an American expatriate who owned a bookstore named Le Mistral in Paris changed his bookstore’s name into Shakespeare and Co. as a tribute to Sylvia Beach’s death in 1964. Le Mistral was another English bookstore, like what the original Shakespeare and Co. was, which was established in 1951.
In its development, Whitman’s Shakespear and Co. continues the original bookstore of its role as the focal point of English literature in Paris. Its frequent visitors were including Anais Nin, Henry Miller, and Richard Wright. The bookstore hosts many literature activities such as poetry readings, writers’ meeting, book readings, writing festivals, literature festival, photography workshops, writing groups, and Sunday tea. The store now is run by George Whitman’s daughter, Sylvia Whitman, since his death on December 14, 2011.
Visiting and Staying in Shakespeare and Co. Paris
The book store is located at 37 rue de la Bucherie in the Latin Quarter. The nearest metro station is the Saint-Michel station. It is open for visit every day from noon until midnight.
The unique thing about this bookstore is that it still allows writers to stay the night for free in exchange for some helping out in the bookstore. There are 13 beds available for guests who can stay as long as they want. The reason Whitman provided this arrangement was to “repay the hospitality I received in many countries when I was a vagabond.”
You may feel that you don’t fill in the requirements as a “writer” to stay in Shakespeare and Co. However, this term is used loosely. So, do not be discouraged to ask whether there is vacant space for you. You have to understand though that the accommodation is also quite fairly casual so if you are not backpacking, you may prefer to stay in a hotel instead.