Thursday, 15 December 2011

George Whitman Has Died; An Era Has Ended


Sad news.  The world's greatest bookshop owner, and one of the great expats of all time, big-hearted, eccentric George Whitman, of kilometre zero's Shakespeare & Company, has died, at the lovely age of 98.  I lived in Paris for a few years (2001-2003) and, like thousands of other young writers, knew his generosity.  My Whitman anecdote gives the measure of the man.  One day I came in and introduced myself, in 2002 or so, as a young poet.  Whitman invited me to "a small reading" later that afternoon.  Instead, imagine my surprise when I was asked to open (with a generous ten minutes or so) for Lawrence Ferlinghetti, to an audience of hundreds outside the shop, crowding the pavements.  In the audience was none other than George Plimpton, who I spoke with after.  One of the great memories of my life, and entirely thanks to the splendid wide decency and helpfullness of Whitman, who embodied some of the spirit of his namesake, and enacted all that was best, and least grubby, about bohemianism.
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