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Iconic bookstore creates close community in the heart of Paris

Located opposite picturesque Luxembourg Gardens in Paris, ‘The Red Wheelbarrow’  bookstore established by Canada-born Penelope Fletcher is a popular place beloved by all readers visiting the City of Light.

And we are delighted to announce that participants to Ireland Writing Retreat this October will have the pleasure of enjoying an exclusive visit and a meeting specially arranged with the friendly and hard-working bookseller.

“I look forward very much to meeting members of the retreat and discussing our mutual love of reading and writing,” said an enthusiastic Penelope. “It should be a most enjoyable wine and words evening get-together. As I consider a bookstore should be a close community of like-minded people, they’ll be most welcome.”

Describing her youth in an earlier interview as being, “mostly on an island off an island off an island,” Penelope then studied English literature and classics at universities in British Columbia, Manitoba, and Quebec, and worked in bookshops in Vancouver and Montreal.

Buoyed by an adventurous spirit and a positive ‘can-do’ attitude, she moved to Paris in 1990, after visiting the city with her mother two years earlier.

After a year working at Brentano’s bookstore on Avenue de l’Opéra, Penelope became a teacher of English, married a French jazz pianist and had three children. With help from the French Chamber of Commerce, she turned dream into reality, opening ‘The Red Wheelbarrow’ bookshop eighteen years ago, even winning a Paris Initiative Enterprise interest-free loan.

After closing temporarily, the bookstore reopened on the Left Bank where it continues to satisfy the needs of book-lovers everywhere, offering a wide selection in a range of different genres. Penelope also organizes a wide range of interesting events at her bookstore including readings from international authors, poetry evenings and book launches. Classes also take place there.

As for the unique name, The Red Wheelbarrow, Penelope said she chose it because as in the poem of the same name by William Carlos Williams, “so much depends upon”… something else.

In an interview with ‘Bonjour Paris,’ she added, “Perhaps I thought of this title originally because there was so much paperwork and bureaucracy involved in opening a bookshop.”

Other reasons were the fact that the poem was originally published in Lyon, in a volume entitled ‘Spring and All’ in 1923, and the poet was a friend of Sylvia Beach, the legendary Paris bookstore owner, as well as other expats in the City of Light. The Red Wheelbarrow is a mere 300 meters around the corner from the original ‘Shakespeare and Company, opened by Beach in 1919. Three years later, Beach published James Joyce’s monumental Ulysses. 

Penelope follows in the footsteps of her predecessor, becoming a valuable friend to both French and expat readers and writers alike.

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