Stuart Maconie travels to the Shakespeare and Company bookshop in a bid to understand how a winding, twisting, bohemian bookstore in Paris has become a draw for generations of writers.
Since its beginnings in 1919, Shakespeare and Company has played host to an extraordinary range of authors. James Joyce and the Lost Generation of Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound and Gertrude Stein communed, borrowed books and exchanged ideas in the original shop founded by Sylvia Beach.
A bookshop dedicated to empowering writers, it was Sylvia Beach who first published James Joyce's Ulysses. George Whitman took up this mantle in 1951 and attracted the writers of the Beat Generation including Allen Ginsberg, William S Burroughs, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Anais Nin, and Henry Miller. In a rare interview, Beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti speaks to Stuart Maconie about his relationship with George Whitman.
It was not just these famous authors who worked, slept, ate and loved in this "socialist utopia masquerading as a bookstore". Stuart Maconie meets with Sylvia Whitman, daughter of the former owner, to discover the lives of the 30,000 aspiring writers called Tumbleweeds who have found shelter among the books.
Professor Andrew Hussey OBE discusses the bookshop's contemporary cultural contribution. In a literary landscape dominated by digital downloads, Stuart Maconie investigates if this labyrinth of bookish treasures can remain culturally relevant or if it has become a museum to its past.
The programme also includes contemporary authors such as former Children's Laureate Michael Morpurgo, poet Kate Tempest, author Sarah Hall and musician Olivia Chaney.
Producers: John Leonard and Ruth Fitzsimons
A Smooth Operations production for BBC Radio 4.