Shakespeare and Company reveals treasures of its archives

Shakespeare and Company reveals treasures of its archives

Renowned English language bookshop Shakespeare and Company, situated on Paris's Left Bank, is marking its 65th anniversary by publishing an illustrated history of the shop.

Shakespeare and Company, Paris: A History of the Rag & Bone Shop of the Heart, edited by Krista Halverson with a foreword by Jeanette Winterson, will be published later this month (27th September, £24.95) by the bookshop's eponymous new publishing imprint. It will be distributed in the States by DAP and in the UK and elsewhere by Thames & Hudson.

The 400-page book is said to draw on never-before-seen archives, with over 300 images and 70 editorial contributions, including personal essays, poems, and diary entries from shop guests such as Allen Ginsberg, Anaïs Nin, Ian Rankin, Kate Tempest, and Ethan Hawke.

The images include reproductions of bookshop ephemera—such as a 1956 promotional flyer advertising events with James Baldwin and Richard Wright—and rare photographs. It also introduces readers to some of the travellers who’ve stayed in the shop, sleeping in beds between the shelves of books. The bookshop's late founder George Whitman named his guests “Tumbleweeds”, and since the shop opened, more than 30,000 Tumbleweeds have slept in the bookstore, most of them aspiring writers. In exchange for a free bed in the French capital, guests are asked to help out around the shop for a few hours a day and write a one-page autobiography. Writers Alan Sillitoe, Sebastian Barry, Kate Grenville, Ian Rankin and screenwriter / director Darren Aronofsky, are all former "Tumbleweeds".

Halverson, the book’s editor, organised the shop’s archives following Whitman's death in 2011, and said she wanted the book to “recreate for readers my experiences sitting in George’s bedroom, his cat on my lap, unearthing amazing photographs and documents; we wanted to build a book like a box of treasures that would be valuable both to those who know the shop well and to those who’ve only just learned of it."

She added: "We also wanted readers to get a perspective of the bookstore within the span of Paris history, including the arrival of the Beats in the 1950s, the Cold War, the May ’68 student protests, and the feminist movement of the 1970s. And we wanted to share visitors’ memories in their own voices. Some of the editorial contributions came from the shop’s archives, others from previously published material, some were adapted from interviews, and others came from our open call for submissions announced on social media.”

The book has an epilogue by Whitman's daughter Sylvia Whitman, who now co-runs the shop with her partner David Delannet. She commented: “I'd wanted to bring the archives to life for a long time—not only due to the sheer size of them, but also because we wanted to share all these incredible tales and celebrate independent bookstores in general, celebrate these lighthouses, these accumulators of stories.”

Halverson is the director of Shakespeare and Company’s new publishing venture, Shakespeare and Company Paris, which "looks forward to releasing new writing and illustrated books, along with beautiful editions of classic texts and works in translation."