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A Remembrance of George Whitman of Shakespeare and Company

December 17, 2011

Shakespeare and Company Book Shop

Shakespeare and Company Book Shop

I learned of the news of the death of George Whitman, the owner of the Shakespeare and Company book shop, on the day he died at 98, on December 14th via the store’s Facebook page. I thought immediately that I had to say something about it on this blog, but I decided to wait, let the news sink in, and try to figure out exactly what I could say. I had first met George in 1983, and periodically since then I saw him as he steamed on through life running this amazing book shop. But I never got to know him, despite speaking briefly with him on several occasions.

The book store actually had played an important role in my life, but I have always had a hard time summing up how. I had met many writers there, including Christopher Cook Gilmore, a novelist who died of a brain tumor in 2004, and who introduced me to his literary agent, who would become my own first literary agent. He actually at one point commissioned from me a murder mystery that takes place in Shakespeare and Company, and I actually wrote the whole novel. Taking a look at it now for the first time in the 20 or more years since I wrote it, I laugh out loud at how bad it is and I am not surprised it was immediately rejected not even by publishers, but by the agent! (He tried to sell one or two of my good novels, but never succeeded.)

But I suddenly realized today a fact I had completely forgotten, which was the I had also had another thing commissioned linked to Shakespeare and Company, and that was a newspaper article about the bookstore, that an editor at the Globe and Mail in Toronto had asked me for on spec – and he too rejected that. I wrote the story in 1989 and it was just one of a long string of articles that I had written over the previous decade that had been rejected as all my efforts to write journalism came to nothing but rejections. I suppose now that I was so used to rejections and thinking that anything I wrote would never get published, that I immediately gave up on the idea of publishing the story. But now that I look at it for the first time in 22 years, I think it was a shame it never got published. It paints a wonderful and very true picture of the Shakespeare and Company of the time, and no doubt, George Whitman’s store of any time going back to its founding in the early 1950s.

So I am very pleased to be able to post that never-before-published article about Shakespeare and Company – including quotes from my interview with George (and with Gilmore) – here in the articles section of this blog. It was a visit to the store right squat in the middle of its Shakespeare and Company period, and a nice museum piece and memory of how things were. I have posted the article with no changes made to the manuscript, as I found it in my computer archives, as written.

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