Thursday, December 15, 2011

RIP George Whitman and Best of the Small Press 2011: Day 4

Writer in Residence is Mark Spitzer's memoir of living at
Shakespeare and Company (Paris) in the late '90s.

I was sad to hear this morning about the death of George Whitman, legendary expat bookseller of Paris for almost 60 years. I was lucky enough to spend some time with George (surely one of the great characters of the 20th Century) in his incarnation of Shakespeare & Company in 2000 and 2001. George made me pancakes, gave me a reading, put my novel in the window, and vacated his bed for me, as he did for so many writers and other artists who came through his bookstore over the years. I remember him snarling at customers, getting warm hugs from the young ballerina who was sleeping in the bookstore in those days, and giving himself a "haircut" with a candle. (He'd burn his hair and then pat out the flames.)

Today’s small press recommendations come from Mark Spitzer, who (in a sense) got me to the unique English-language bookstore. This renegade editor (Exquisite Corpse, Toad Suck Review), translator (Bataille, Genet, Celine), and author of novels, nonfiction, and poems wrote a letter of introduction to George Whitman for my poet friend Geoffrey Cruickshank-Hagenbuckle to stay at Shakespeare; when I first met Geoffrey a few months later, his stories of Paris and George Whitman inspired me to travel to the city of the Surrealists and to sleep at Shakespeare & Co.

I finally met Mark Spitzer in 2011 when he came to Pittsburgh for a July reading organized by local publishers Six Gallery Press and Low Ghost Press. Six Gallery was featuring his new book, Proze Attack, the second book of Spitzer's collected works to be published on this rebel press. Sharing the stage that night were Pittsburgh poets Kris Collins, Margaret Bashaar, Don Wentworth, Jason Baldinger, Lucy Goubert, and Bob Pajich. At the reading, I picked up a copy of Spitzer's tribute to Shakespeare & Company, Writer in Residence: Memoir of a Literary Translator (University of New Orleans Press, 2010), and quickly devoured his compelling story of translating exciting texts by French avant garde authors, dealing with cranky small press editors, staking out his territory at Shakespeare & Co and then literally repairing it as it crumbled, and falling in love and lust with other bookstore habitu├ęs. But throughout this memoir also runs the touching, well-drawn, and hilarious story of his friendship with George Whitman. His chapters perfectly capture the contradictions of the man who was one of the most grumpy bookmen of them all, but who was also one of the most generous softies. George was a longtime friend to the avant garde, with emphasis on “friend”: He seemed to value friendship at least as much as he cared about books, revolution, or literature. I am grateful for Mark Spitzer's written memories of George and for his small press picks below.


1. Emergency Room Wrestling, The Dirty Poet (Words Like Kudzu Press)
2. House Organ, no. 76, Kenneth Warren, ed. (House Organ)
3. Blank, Davis Schneiderman (Jaded Ibis Press)

Recommended by Mark Spitzer
Author of Proze Attack (Six Gallery Press)

Check out:

Writer in Residence: Memoir of a Literary Translator
By Mark Spitzer

A memory of George Whitman by expat poet Eddie Woods:
“A Place to Change Trains”

My own memoir chapter of Shakespeare & Company:
“A Bookman’s Holiday in Paris”

New York Times obituary of George Whitman

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