Remembering George Whitman, Owner of Famed Bookstore, Shakespeare & Company

In 2005, the Sundance Channel aired Portrait of a Bookstore as an Old Man, a 52 minute documentary that pays homage to George Whitman, the American founder of the most famous independent bookstore in Paris, Shakespeare and Company. Whitman died yesterday, at age 98, in his apartment above the store.

Sylvia Beach first opened a bookshop named Shakespeare and Company in 1918, and it soon became a home for artists of the “Lost Generation” (Hemingway, Pound, Fitzgerald, Stein, etc.). It also famously published James Joyce’s Ulysses in 1922. The shop eventually closed during the Nazi occupation of Paris. Yet a good decade later, George Whitman came along and established another English-language bookstore on the Left Bank and eventually rechristened it Shakespeare and Company. Whitman’s shop gave sanctuary to Beat writers – Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs and the rest. And it’s this incarnation of the fabled bookstore that the documentary takes as its subject. Give the documentary some time, and be sure to watch the last five minutes – unless you already know how to cut your hair with fire. It will give you a little feel for Whitman and his well-known eccentricities. RIP.

Related Content:

William S. Burroughs Reads His First Novel, Junky

Spike Jonze Presents a Stop Motion Film Set at Shakespeare and Company

Jack Kerouac Reads from On the Road (1959)

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  • Heard about George Whitman’s passing earlier this week. Sad he didn’t make it to 100 like he had reportedly wanted, however, what a life!

    Portrait of a Bookstore as an Old Man is terrific. Having come across it a couple of years ago it was well worth watching again.

    I also posted info on the documentary here (, including mention of how Shakespeare & Company features in Spike Jonze’s recent (and excellent) short animation Mourir Auprès de Toi.

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