Between 1919 and 1939, Paris experienced a cultural and intellectual boom. This blog will feature artists, writers, composers, musicians, and designers. Paris was at its cultural peak.
Sylvia Beach was born as Nancy Woodbridge Beach in Baltimore, the daughter of a clergyman. When she was 14, her family moved to Paris upon her father’s appointment to the American Church in Paris. She lived for many years between the United States and Europe, until, at the end of World War I in 1918, Beach returned to Paris to study French literature.
Her first intention was to open a book shop in New York and offer contemporary French works to American readers, but financial challenges prevented her from achieving her dream. Instead, she took advantage of cheaper rents in Paris and opened an English-language bookstore, Shakespeare & Company. The store functioned as a lending library as well as a bookstore, and was the center of Anglo-American literary culture and modernism in Paris. Writers including Ernest Hemingway, Ezra Pound, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Gertrude Stein spent a great deal of time there, and the shop was nicknamed “Stratford-on-Odéon” (referring to its street address) by James Joyce, who used it as his office.
Though her business suffered during the Great Depression of the 1930s, her support for and encouragement to both American and French writers paid off, as they rallied around to keep the shop open.
She died in Paris in 1962.