Remembering Beat Poet and City Lights Publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti

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  • Ferlinghetti and Allen Ginsberg in 1965. Photo credit: Stroud / Stringer

Ferlinghetti circa 1960. Photo credit: Michael Ochs Archives / Stringer

Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Beat-era writer of the 1958 poetry collection A Coney Island of the Mind, died last month at the age of 101. Also well known for opening City Lights bookstore in San Francisco and establishing a small press, he magnified the voices of friends Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and many others.

While his most famous work became popular upon its release, Ferlinghetti never achieved the same notoriety as some of his contemporaries. Yet his bookstore and publishing work would make San Francisco the hub for West Coast intellectuals.

According to NPR, when Ferlinghetti published Ginsberg’s Howl in 1956,  the work “included passages describing sex—both between men and women and between two men, and he was arrested in 1957 on charges of publishing obscene material. At the end of a long federal trial, the poem was found to have redeeming social importance and therefore to not be obscene.

“Literary critic Gerald Nicosia says Ferlinghetti’s two greatest accomplishments were fighting censorship and inaugurating a small-press revolution.

“Up until that point, getting published was a difficult thing,” Nicosia says. “If you were a radical, an innovative writer, you would be rebuffed by New York, by mainstream publishers. By creating this press out of nothing—City Lights press—he said: Look, you don’t need these big publishers in New York. You can do it, and you can get the books out, and not only that, you can make waves.”

Read more about Ferlinghetti’s life and impact on California culture here

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