Lawrence Ferlinghetti, the founder of San Francisco’s City Lights bookstore and champion of some of the greatest queer and countercultural literature in history, has died at age 101.
Ferlinghetti founded City Lights in 1953, and it quickly became the hub of the Beat poetry movement. This summary by the Poetry Foundation helps conceptualize his work:
By the mid-1950s, the Beats helped to spearhead a cultural vanguard reacting against institutionalized American values, materialism, and conformity. On October 7, 1955, the Beats gave their first major public poetry reading, a seminal event held at Six Gallery in San Francisco. Among the five poets to perform their work was Allen Ginsberg, who first read “Howl,” a poem in the tradition of Walt Whitman that Ginsberg described as “an emotional time bomb that would continue exploding… the military-industrial-nationalistic complex.”
Via the SFGate‘s obituary:
Ferlinghetti’s 1958 collection of poetry “A Coney Island of the Mind” is considered another pillar of Beat generation literature, and he continued publishing collections of poetry and novels through the subsequent decades. He was named the Poet Laureate of San Francisco in 1998, and in addition to writing, was also a distinguished painter and spearheaded the creation of Jack Kerouac Alley in 1987.
Ferlinghetti was arrested for publishing Allen Ginsberg‘s epic poem Howl in 1957, sparking a widely-publicized First Amendment case. If you’re interested in the Ginsberg obscenity trial, you should check out Howl starring James Franco as Ginsberg and Andrew Rogers as Ferlinghetti.
Here is Ferlinghetti reading “Pity the Nation“:
Image: Mauro Aprile Zanetti / DPA Picture Alliance / Avalon