American dean of Paris literary scene dies at 98

Thu Dec 15, 2011 9:10am EST
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By Catherine Bremer

PARIS (Reuters) - The man who nurtured a generation of aspiring writers at a rickety English-language bookstore in Paris, offering supper and a bed to literature fans providing they dusted the shelves or penned their memoirs, has died aged 98.

George Whitman, an American, died in the little apartment at the top of his Shakespeare and Company bookstore where he hung with Beat poets Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac half a century ago and until recently hosted literary tea parties on Sundays for anybody who cared to come by.

Decorated with a French medal for his contribution to the Paris literary scene, Whitman became a father figure over six decades to a stream of would-be writers from around the world who would curl up in his second-floor library for weeks on end.

Henry Miller once called his store, open since 1951 on the arty left bank of the Seine, "A wonderland of books."

"Thousands of people from around the world ate his clam chowder and strawberry ice cream and survived thanks to his generosity," said Pia Copper, 38, an art dealer who worked at the store in the 1990s and remained a close friend.

"He offered them the possibility of living across from Notre Dame for free while they penned their first novel or painted a picture. There were a lot of books and poems written there."

The green-fronted store was shuttered on Thursday and well-wishers left votive candles, flowers and novels at the door, where a formal announcement of his death said he would be missed by bibliophiles around the world.

Handwritten tributes cellotaped to the store thanked Whitman for his generosity in providing a haven for "aficionados" of literature or apologized for not finishing novels.   Continued...