Tag Archives: Shakespeare & Company Bookstore

Mourning the loss of a cultural visionary

George Whitman, founder of one of the world’s most iconic bookstores ‘the rag and bone shop of the heart’, Shakespeare & Company has passed away aged 98.

What started as a bankrupt grocery store in 1951, became the home away from home for writers such as Henry Miller, Anais Nin, Samuel Beckett, William S. Burroughs, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who himself, went on to found, the sister bookstore, City Lights. Over the course of more than 50 years, Whitman turned Shakespeare & Company into a cultural shrine, running the store as a little socialist republic pretending to be a bookshop, while many of the more commercially driven stores came and went around him. Whitman was a one of a kind, a cultural visionary who exuded generosity, the kind of man needed even more in today’s economic and publishing climate.

Here’s a clip from the film, Portrait of a Bookstore as an Old Man, which looks at the life of Whitman and his rag and bone shop of the heart:

And here’s a link to watch the full 52 min film (totally recommend it).


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Bookstores, bookstores everywhere

Yet, so many of them are not worth walking into…

There are however, those few gems where you could unfurl your swag and spend the night (no, let’s make that nights). My good friend, Cindy Keong, is currently somewhere over the Tasman, on her way home from San Francisco and a visit to what has to be one of the finest bookstores in the world, City Lights. This place is on my must visit list, as without this store, I may never have picked up a pencil to write. The literature that it has published or inspired has been more than influential. Check out some of Cindy’s photos at her blog. Can’t wait to hear her stories…

And if I was to go on a bookstore tour of the world, these two stores would definitely make my itinerary:


Shakespeare & Company (Paris, France)

Opened by George Whitman in 1951 after a conversation with his friend Lawrence Ferlinghetti (founder of City Lights), Shakespeare and Company has been a hub of creativity and a gathering place for the likes of Henry Miller, Anais Nin, Allen Ginsberg. A visit to their events page will most certainly have you wishing you were just around the corner…


Boekhandel Selexyz Dominicanen (Maastricht)

Described by many as ‘Gods own bookshop’, this place has got to be in the running for the most beautiful bookstore. Located in a radically redesigned 800 year old Dominican Church. They certainly don’t build bookstores like that over here…

I would also add Collected Works  to my must see list for anyone in the world, as if it’s poetry you want, then this place is as good as it gets! And if you want a bookstore owner who knows his stuff… then Kris Hemensley is your man. I always make my yearly pilgrimage…

And as I am off to Sydney, I must also give Gleebooks a mention. This is one of the many great indedependent bookstores in this country and again, it has an extensive poetry collection, so I always walk out the door a few dollars lighter.

Speaking of Sydney… I must be off to pack.


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