Founder Of Famous Paris Bookstore Dies

The founder of a venerable literary institution in Paris has died at 98. George Whitman founded the Shakespeare and Company bookstore, across from the Notre Dame cathedral. The shop was a magnet for English speakers in the French capital.

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For book lovers, a trip to Paris is likely to include a visit to the legendary English-language bookstore Shakespeare and Company. This week, the store's founder, George Whitman, died at age 98 in the apartment he lived in just upstairs from the bookstore.

NPR's Eleanor Beardsley has his story, and the story of Shakespeare and Company.

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ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: The bells of Notre Dame chime out the evening hour just across the Seine River from Shakespeare and Company. The creaky, old Latin Quarter bookstore is closed tonight, but that doesn't stop visitors from coming by to light a candle and place it on the cobblestones outside.

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BEARDSLEY: Tourists here from around Europe said they know all about Shakespeare and Company, and that the bookstore is a must-see for anyone visiting the City of Light.

For California exchange student Lauren Schoneman, Shakespeare and Company has been a home away from home.

LAUREN SCHONEMAN: We would come here and study all the time because we love the atmosphere. Like, it's really cool. There's beds and chairs. And - I don't know - there are all the old books and the history of it all, and how writers used to come here. And it felt magical, honestly.

BEARDSLEY: The founder of that magical place, George Whitman, was born in 1913 in East Orange, New Jersey. From early on, Whitman loved both the written word and foreign travel - interests nurtured by a professor father who took the family along for a year's sabbatical in China, in 1925. After wandering through Latin America, Whitman got a degree in journalism from Boston University. He eventually enlisted in the U.S. Army, serving across Europe as a medic.

In 1948, he moved to Paris permanently and opened his bookstore. He took the name from the original Shakespeare and Company, which closed down during the war but had been a magnet in the 1920s for English-speaking expats like Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Whitman kept up that tradition by welcoming literary and artistic souls from far and wide.

Author Charles Glass wrote a book about Americans in Paris. He describes the atmosphere George Whitman created at his Shakespeare and Company.

GEORGE GLASS: The bookshop was open-door to anybody coming through Paris and - needed a place to sleep. George used to leave the door unlocked. He trusted everyone. The arrangement was that if they could work an hour a day for him, they could have a place to sleep.

BEARDSLEY: Glass says Whitman was a bohemian and a socialist who trusted humanity. His bookstore will live on with his daughter now in charge.

Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris.

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