Sometimes you just have to travel to learn new things. I had to go to Paris to find out about Sylvia Beach. When we were planning our first trip to Paris in 1998, a writing colleague told us go to Shakespeare and Co., a bookstore in Paris that has books in English. Not only did it have a warren of rooms crammed with books, but newspapers, posters, postcards, and a community  bulletin board that reminded me of the East Village in the ’60s and ’70s. Looking for a room? Looking for Dr. Seuss in English? And the icing on the bookstore cake–a garret room with a single bed with rumpled sheets and an empty wine bottle on the floor.  Who started this wonderful place? An American woman named Sylvia Beach.

Born in Maryland on this day in 1887,  Sylvia Beach went to Paris as a young girl, but returned and lived there for the rest of her life. And what a life it was. She was a “quietly radical” woman, opening a bookstore in 1919 across the street from Adrienne Monnier’s, who became her lifelong friend and lover. Sylvia “carried pollen like a bee… cross-fertilizing these writers” … Hemingway, Joyce, TS Eliot, Ezra Pound and French artists. She was at the center of avant-garde literature offering tea and sometimes lodging for artists.

Wandering through the aisles, I had the desire to step back in time and meet this incredible woman. The most I can do is visit Paris which we did again in 2010, read about her, and ask, “Anyone know more about her, tell me. “

The Hemingway Project offers an appetizer of information about this fascinating woman.

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and the writing life.