George Whitman  

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George Whitman (December 12, 1913 – December 14, 2011) was the proprietor of the Shakespeare and Company bookstore in Paris. He was a contemporary of such Beat poets as Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. Despite references in the press, there is no proof that he is a direct relation of American poet Walt Whitman.

He was born in East Orange, New Jersey. When George was still a baby the family moved to Salem, Massachusetts. In 2006 Whitman was awarded the "Officier des Arts et Lettres" medal by the French government for his contribution to the arts over the previous fifty years.

Bookstore

Whitman founded his bookstore in 1951 and named it Le Mistral, then later named it after Sylvia Beach's earlier Paris bookstore "Shakespeare and Company". His shop, located at 37 rue de la Bûcherie in Paris, was opened in August 1951 (two years before a sister bookshop City Lights was opened in San Francisco by Lawrence Ferlinghetti) by George Whitman with an inheritance from his aunt. He called the shop "Le Mistral" after his first French girlfriend. From the very first night he allowed travellers, young writers, poets and artists to lodge in exchange for a hand in cleaning the shop, building shelves and selling books. Sylvia Beach, whose famous shop was on 12, rue de l'Odéon, was still in Paris and came to Le Mistral to see the writers of the new generation, whom Anaïs Nin called Xerox artists, read aloud their new work. Whitman modeled his shop after Sylvia Beach's. As it was the only free English-language lending library in Paris, the Beats who arrived at the Beat Hotel on rue Git-le-Coeur quickly found their way to the small bookshop and made a place for themselves there. In 1962, Sylvia Beach died, willing to George Whitman a good deal of her private books and the rights to the name Shakespeare and Company. In 1964, Le Mistral was renamed Shakespeare and Company. Whitman named his daughter, born in 1981, after his bibliophilic predecessor; Sylvia Whitman took over the running of the shop in 2003 at age 22.

Whitman allows young travellers to stay in the residential quarters of his rue de la Bûcherie premises (specifically published writers); you are also encouraged to read a book a day during your stay and are asked for two hours work as contribution to the running of the shop. All Whitman asks of his guests is to provide a short "biography" and photograph and work a short period in the shop. On Sunday mornings he traditionally cooks his guests a pancake breakfast, brewing up a thin ersatz "syrup" out of some burnt sugar and water.

Whitman began to receive international notice when a documentary titled Portrait of a Bookstore as an Old Man, by Gonzague Pichelin and Benjamin Sutherland, ran on The Sundance Channel in fall 2005. At the end of the film, Whitman trimmed his hair using the flame of a candle, set his hair on fire, and then doused it.

On Wednesday, September 26, 2007, journalist Gerry Hadden's story on George Whitman, his daughter Sylvia, and Shakespeare & Company aired on NPR's The World (a co-production of the BBC, Public Radio International (PRI), and the Boston radio station WGBH).

Death

Whitman died on December 14, 2011, at age 98, at home in the apartment above his bookshop, Shakespeare and Company, in Paris.





Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "George Whitman" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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