SF Residents Create Memorial for Poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti Outside Of City Lights Bookstore

Jamie Ferrell Jamie Ferrell

SF Residents Create Memorial for Poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti Outside Of City Lights Bookstore

Lawrence Ferlinghetti published dozens of Beat generation poets.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti, famed SF poet, painter and co-founder of City Lights Bookstore, passed away Monday evening. He died at the age of 101 after a battle with lung disease.

A vigil was held Tuesday night in Jack Kerouac Alley next to the bookstore, and a collection of items was laid out front. It includes bouquets of flowers, a PBR tall boy, a cigarette, photographs, candles, and more.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti was born in 1919 in Yonkers, New York. He graduated from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1941 with a degree in journalism, later enlisting in the U.S. Navy during World War II. After his service, Ferlinghetti earned a master’s in English literature at Columbia University in 1947, and then eventually studied a doctorate in comparative literature at the University of Paris.

Ferlinghetti moved to San Francisco in 1951 and opened the legendary City Lights Bookstore two years later. The bookstore said on Instagram, “Ferlinghetti was instrumental in democratizing American literature by creating (with Peter D. Martin) the country’s first all-paperback bookstore in 1953, jumpstarting a movement to make diverse and inexpensive quality books widely available.” He also established City Lights Publishers “with the objective of stirring an ‘international dissident ferment.'”


[Image: Cmichel67, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons]

He was a publisher of many poets through the City Lights Pocket Poets Series, including Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, William Carlos Williams, Julio Cortázar, and more. Ferlinghetti was arrested for publishing Ginsberg’s “Howl” in 1956, which led to a lengthy trial over the obscenity of the poem and its drug references and sexual imagery.  He later won the trial with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union.

The Beat movement generally centered itself on the rejection of materialism, sexual liberation and exploration, spiritual quests and experimentation with psychedelic drugs, and the rejection of narrative norms. 

Ferlinghetti did not consider himself to be a Beat poet, although he published the work of many. According to the Poetry Foundation, he believed that art “should be accessible to all people, not just a handful of highly educated intellectuals.” His most famous poetry collection, A Coney Island of the Mind (1958), is one of the most prolific collections of poetry in the world, selling over 1 million copies.

Below, read Ferlinghetti’s “The Changing Light” via Poets.Org:


[Featured Image: @aliciaapriladams via Instagram]

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