An American, in 1951 Whitman founded a Paris institution: the Left Bank bookstore “Le Mistral”, later renamed (when Sylvia Beach died and willed him rights to the name) “Shakespeare & Co.” The shop was the stopping point for up and coming writers, who Whitman sheltered in exchange for two hours working in the store, a one-page biography, and a photo of themselves. He wouldn’t turn anyone away, “lest they be angels in disguise.” About 50,000 writers — Whitman called them “Tumbleweeds” — took the deal over the years, including Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Durrell, and Anais Nin. Each of the biographies and letters were kept, documenting their life-changing time staying at the shop. In 2006 Whitman was awarded the Officier des Arts et Lettres by the French government for his contribution to the arts. The store is now run by his daughter, Sylvia, who will apparently still welcome the Tumbleweeds. Whitman died in his apartment above the shop on December 14 from complications from a stroke. He was 98.
From This is True for 18 December 2011