For Women’s History Month, I’ve chosen to celebrate American expatriate publisher and bookstore owner, Sylvia Beach. In the fall of 1919, Beach opened Shakespeare & Co., the most (in)famous bookstore east of the Atlantic. Beach was a key part in the financial support & publishing of many modernist writers in the 1920s, including James Joyce and Ernest Hemingway.
Shakespeare & Co. was a sort of ground zero for literary modernism in the years following War World War I up to World War II. All the great American, Irish, English, and French authors of the time came together in the stacks of Beach’s shop. Here’s a short list of distinguished guests: T.S. Eliot, Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, D.H. Lawrence, Man Ray, and Aleister Crowley. No other bookstore can boast the contributions to literary history the way Shakespeare & Co. can.
Perhaps Beach’s biggest distinction in the literary world is her achievement of publishing the first complete edition of James Joyce’s magnum opus, Ulysses. The book was challenged, censored, and burned during its multi year serialization in The Little Review. Multiple people were arrested and tried for obscenity over its release. Despite the dangers, Beach vowed to Joyce she would publish a complete, uncensored edition of the book upon its completion.
Sylvia Beach was integral to nurturing and supporting so many of the authors I hold closest in the literary period I love the most. More than that, Sylvia Beach was a woman who sacrificed much for the pursuit of artistic excellence and putting important voices into the world. For that, I give a hearty, “Thank you.”
Sylvia Beach was intimately acquainted with the expatriate and visiting writers of the Lost Generation, a label that she never accepted. Like moths of great promise, they were drawn to her well-lighted bookstore and warm hearth on the Left Bank.
Making use of the author's access to the Beach family papers, this account chronicles the literary circle that gathered at Beach's Paris book shop.
Recipient of the 2015 PEN New England Award for Nonfiction"The arrival of a significant young nonfiction writer . . . A measured yet bravura performance." --Dwight Garner, The New York Times
Considered the greatest 20th century novel written in English, in this edition Walter Gabler uncovers previously unseen text. It is a disillusioned study of estrangement, paralysis and the disintegration of society.