So Long, George!

Photo by Will Brady

This just in via the New York Daily News. First paras below, full article here. Sad indeed: I too lived for a number of months in one of the upstairs rooms at Shakespeare & Co, back in 1966-1967, after George had eyed me suspiciously for a long, long while. There I discovered a whole range of American & British & Third World poets, read Pound’s Cantos for the first time, roomed with the great Moroccan poet Mohammed Khaïr-Eddine (cf. my memoir in Justifying the Margins), gave my first public reading (criticized, I remember, by Ted Joans), wrote some of my first poems in English & worked with Jean Fanchette on translations from Celan & other German poets for his magazine Two Cities (an issue that sadly never appeared). It was a true University. Many thanks & rest in peace, George!

So long, George Whitman: Legendary Shakespeare and Company owner dies at 98


In the summer of 2001, I spent two miserable weeks in Paris, having gone there to find a city – the city of Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Stein – that had long ceased to exist. The majority of that time I spent at Shakespeare and Company, the Left Bank bookstore/hostel/library/museum/bar/hovel whose proprietor, George Whitman, died at 98 on Wednesday.

I hated Shakespeare. I hated the lack of a bathroom, and how the waiters at La Fourmi Ailée lowered their eyes when you came in, since they knew you were only there to use their toilet.I hated that we slept between shelves, on old wooden doors on which thin blankets had been laid. The blankets were dirty because someone else had slept on them before – any expatriate could stay at George’s store, provided he or she agreed to “work” for him, which usually meant jerking a thumb at tourists looking for A Farewell to Arms. George didn’t much care who you were or what you were doing in Paris. If you wanted to hang around in the shadows of the Notre Dame, drinking wine with expatriates, reading inscrutable poetry and occasionally sweeping the dusty floors, you could be both his tenant and employee.

I should not have hated it, but I did. I hated that it wasn’t the same Shakespeare and Company that Syliva Beach opened in 1919, and which published James Joyce’ Ulysses three years later – I felt cheated, somehow. I hated the evocations of Henry Miller and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who lived lives of more daring that I could summon. I hated, too, the older expats who spoke of heartbreak with slightly melancholy boredom, who quoted Paul Celan as if he were an old friend, who smoked Lucky Strikes – and they all smoked Lucky Strikes, I have no idea why – without coughing.

[ctd. here.]

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1 Response

  1. Poo says:

    For those of us who have been there or those who merely walked by, a loss has been felt in that private recess or shelf that holds dreams, memories and pages of books. Our thoughts go to Sylvia and her task of maintaining the shop as it always has been. George and that store are cultural icons in Paris and have been deservedly recognized as such. Another piece of the past I treasure so dearly has been lost.

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