Sylvia Beach – brave bookseller and publisher
On this day in 1887 Sylvia Beach, the American publisher and bookseller, was born. Sylvia grew up in Baltimore, Maryland but came to Paris in 1901 when her father, a Presbyterian minister, was appointed to the American church there.
Beach opened her famous bookshop Shakespeare and Co in the 6th Arrondissement in 1919 after meeting and falling in love with Adrienne Monnier who owned a bookshop called La Maison des Amis du Livre in rue de l’Odeon. The two were to remain together for the next 36 years. Soon Beach moved her shop opposite to Monnier’s, in the same street.
Shakespeare and Co became famous for first publishing James Joyce’s Ulysses in 1922 when no one else would, though Beach lost a lot of money by doing so. Only one thousand copies were printed. Subsequently, the bookshop became a magnet for writers and publishers, particularly expatriates such as Hemingway, Eliot, Pound, DH Lawrence, and Man Ray. Although doing good business before World War II, it was forced to close when Paris fell to the Nazis and Beach was interned. She will always be honoured for the help that she gave to aspiring writers.
Here is a well-known poem, There is no Frigate Like a Book by Emily Dickinson on the power of the written word:
There is no Frigate like a Book
To take us Lands away
Nor any Coursers like a Page
Of prancing Poetry –
This Traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of Toll –
How frugal is the Chariot
That bears the Human Soul –
Today I will remember that we are here to help each other and that I must be as ready to ask for help as to give it.