George Whitman photographed above his bookshop in 2008 by Olivier Meyer
December 12, 1913|
East Orange, New Jersey, United States
|Died||December 14, 2011
|Children||Sylvia Beach Whitman|
George Whitman (December 12, 1913 – December 14, 2011) was the proprietor of the Shakespeare and Company, the celebrated English-language bookstore on Paris’s Left Bank. He was a contemporary of writers such as Allen Ginsberg, Anaïs Nin, and Lawrence Durrell, as well as a lifelong friend of the poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti.
Whitman was born in East Orange, New Jersey, United States, and grew up in Salem, Massachusetts. In 2006 Whitman was awarded the "Officier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres" medal by the French government for his contribution to the arts over the previous fifty years.
Whitman was raised in Salem, Massachusetts. When he was a boy, his family spent two years living in Nanjing, China, where Whitman’s father, Walter, had a guest professorship. This early adventured abroad established Whitman’s lifelong passion for travel and far-flung places.
After graduating with a degree in journalism from Boston University in 1935, Whitman struck out on what he called his “hobo adventures,” train-hopping, hitchhiking, and walking on foot through the U.S., Mexico, and Central America. It was the middle of the Great Depression, but wherever he went, Whitman said he was met with kindness and generosity. This experience would form the founding ethos of his bookstore: “Give what you can; take what you need.” 
From 1940 to 1944, Whitman served in the U.S. Army. For the first two years, he was stationed at a remote weather post in Greenland, where he was a medical warrant officer. From 1943 to 1944, Whitman served in a hospital in Taunton, Massachusetts. There he also managed to open his first bookstore, the Taunton Book Lounge, “modeled on the great Paris salons,” as he wrote to a friend.
In August 1946, Whitman boarded a ship for Paris. Once there, he enrolled at the Sorbonne. Whitman traded his G.I. rations for other veterans’ book allowances, quickly amassing a large number of books. He left his apartment door unlocked, so anyone could come and read the books whether he was home or not.
With his own collection of one thousand books, Whitman opened his Paris bookstore in 1951 at 37 rue de la Bûcherie on the Left Bank. It was first called Le Mistral, but was later renamed Shakespeare and Company, after Sylvia Beach's earlier Paris bookstore (1919 to 1941). Beach, who visited Whitman’s bookstore, is said to have called his shop the “spiritual successor” to her own.
Since 1951, when the shop opened, Whitman would invite travelers--usually aspiring writers, poets, and artists--to stay in the shop for free. In exchange, they were asked to help out around the bookstore, agree to read a book a day, and write a one-page autobiography for the shop’s archives. Whitman called these guests “Tumbleweeds” after the rootles plants that “blow in and out on the winds of chance,” as he described. On Sunday mornings, Whitman would traditionally cook his guests a pancake breakfast, brewing up a thin ersatz "syrup" out of some burnt sugar and water. Since 1951, an estimated 30,000 people have slept at Shakespeare and Company in beds found tucked among the shelves of books.
Whitman’s only child, Sylvia Whitman, war born in 1981. She now runs Shakespeare and Company with her partner, David Delannet.
Whitman was the subject of a documentary titled Portrait of a Bookstore as an Old Man by Gonzague Pichelin and Benjamin Sutherland broadcast 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 Beach Whitman, and Shakespeare and Company aired on NPR's The World (a co-production of the BBC, Public Radio International (PRI), and the Boston radio station WGBH).
- Jo Lennan. "Paris: 10 Things to Do — 4. Shakespeare and Company Bookshop". TIME. Retrieved 2014-10-14.
- "Shakespeare & Company". Time Out Paris. Nov 16, 2011. Retrieved 2014-10-14.
- Shakespeareandcompany.com, accessdate 14.12.2011
- Simons, Marlise. "George Whitman, Paris Bookseller and Cultural Beacon, Is Dead at 98", The New York Times, December 14, 2011. Accessed December 18, 2011."George Whitman was born on Dec. 12, 1913, in East Orange, N.J., and grew up in Salem, Mass."
- A. Craig Copetas (June 7, 2009). "Hemingway's Hangout Spruces Up to Defy Amazon". Bloomberg. Retrieved 2014-10-14.
- Halverson, Krista (2016). Shakespeare and Company, Paris: A History of the Rag & Bone Shop of the Heart. Shakespeare and Company Paris. ISBN 979-10-96101-00-9.
- "Legendary Paris bookshop changes hands", NPR - The World (audio, 4:30 min)
- Kellogg, Carolyn. "Shakespeare & Co. founder George Whitman, 98, dies", Los Angeles Times, December 15, 2011. Accessed December 18, 2011.
- Gerry Hadden photos on Flickr
- Official website
- George Whitman, Obituary, New York Times
- George Whitman at the Internet Movie Database
- Portrait Of A Bookstore As An Old Man
- Obituary in The Independent by Marcus Williamson
- Finn, Christine (17 December 2011). "Shakespeare and Co: A writer's haven on the River Seine". BBC. Retrieved 17 December 2011.
- "George Whitman, 1913 – 2011 : Harriet Staff : Harriet the Blog". The Poetry Foundation. Retrieved 2012-01-08.