History of Lawrence Ferlinghetti
A prominent voice of the wide-open poetry movement that began in the
1950s, Lawrence Ferlinghetti has written poetry, translation, fiction,
theater, art criticism, film narration, and essays. Often concerned
with politics and social issues, Ferlinghetti's poetry countered the
literary elite's definition of art and the artist's role in the world.
Though imbued with the commonplace, his poetry cannot be simply described
as polemic or personal protest, for it stands on his craftsmanship,
thematics, and grounding in tradition.
Ferlinghetti was born in Yonkers in 1919. Following his undergraduate
years at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, he saw service
in the U.S. Navy in World War II as a ship's commander, took part in
the Normandy Invasion and arrived in Nagasaki just weeks after the Bomb
was dropped. He received a Master's degree from Columbia University
in 1947 and a Doctorate de l'Universite de Paris (Sorbonne) in 1950.
From 1951 to 1953, when he settled in San Francisco, he taught French
in an adult education program, painted, and wrote art criticism. In
1953 he founded City Lights Bookstore, the first all-paperbound
bookshop in the country, with Peter D. Martin. By 1955 had he
launched the City Lights publishing house.
The bookstore has served for forty-eight years as a meeting place for
writers, artists, and intellectuals. City Lights Publishers began with
the Pocket Poets Series, through which Ferlinghetti aimed to
create an international, dissident ferment. His publication of Allen
Ginsberg's Howl in 1956 led to his arrest on obscenity charges,
and the trial that followed drew national attention to San Francisco
Renaissance and Beat movement writers. (He was overwhelmingly supported
by prestigious literary and academic figures, and was acquitted.) This
landmark First Amendment case established a legal precedent for the
publication of controversial work with redeeming social importance.
Ferlinghetti has in recent years become well-known as a painter. His
work has been shown at various galleries around the world, from the
Butler Museum of American Painting to Il Palazzo delle Esposizioni
in Rome. In San Francisco, his work can regularly be seen at the
George Krevsky Gallery at 77 Geary Street..
In the 1960s and 1970s, Ferlinghetti's A Coney Island of the Mind
was the most popular poetry book in the U.S. Today this modern classic
has been translated into nine languages, and there are nearly
1,000,000 copies in print. His most recent books are A Far Rockaway
of the Heart (1997) and How to Paint Sunlight (2001), published
by New Directions.
He has been the recipient of numerous awards, including the L.A.
Times Festival Award, the BABRA Award for Lifetime Achievement, the
National Book Critics Circle Ivan Sandrof Award for Contribution to
American Arts and Letters, and the ACLU's Earl Warren Civil Liberties
Award. Ferlinghetti was named San Francisco's Poet Laureate in
August 1998, and he used his post as a bully-pulpit from which he
articulated the seldom-heard "voice of the people." His column
"Poetry as News" has run regularly in the San Francisco Chronicle.
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