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Lawrence Ferlinghetti
Lawrence Ferlinghetti at Caffe Trieste in 2007
Lawrence Ferlinghetti at Caffe Trieste in 2007
Born Lawrence Monsanto Ferlinghetti
March 24, 1919(1919-03-24) (age 102)
Yonkers, New York, U.S.
  • Poet
  • activist
  • essayist
  • painter
  • publisher
Political movement Beat poetry publisher
Spouse(s) Selden Kirby-Smith (1951–1976)[1]
Children Julie and Lorenzo[1]
Parents Carlo Ferlinghetti (Italian) and Lyons Albertine Mendes-Monsanto (French)[1]

Lawrence Monsanto Ferlinghetti (born March 24, 1919) is an American poet, painter, social activist, and the co-founder of City Lights Booksellers & Publishers. He is the author of poetry, translations, fiction, theatre, art criticism, and film narration. Ferlinghetti is best known for his first collection of poems, A Coney Island of the Mind (1958), which has been translated into nine languages, with sales of more than one million copies.[2] Ferlinghetti turned 100 in March 2019, leading the city of San Francisco to proclaim his birthday, March 24, "Lawrence Ferlinghetti Day".[3]

Early life[]

Lawrence Monsanto Ferlinghetti was born on March 24, 1919, in Yonkers, New York.[4] Shortly before Lawrence's birth, his father, Carlo, a native of Brescia, died of a heart attack.[citation needed] His mother, Clemence Albertine (née Mendes-Monsanto), of Sephardic Jewish descent, was committed to a mental hospital shortly afterward. He was raised by an aunt, and later by foster parents. [5] He attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he earned a B.A. in journalism in 1941. He began his career in journalism by writing sports for The Daily Tar Heel,[6] and he published his first short stories in Carolina Magazine, for which Thomas Wolfe had written.[citation needed]

Following service in the U.S. Navy throughout World War II, Ferlinghetti earned a master's degree in English literature from Columbia University in 1947 with a thesis on John Ruskin and the British painter J. M. W. Turner. From Columbia, he went to Paris to continue his studies and earned a doctoral degree in comparative literature with a dissertation on the city as a symbol in modern poetry.[7]

Ferlinghetti met his future wife, Selden Kirby-Smith, granddaughter of Edmund Kirby-Smith, in 1946 aboard a ship en route to France. They both were heading to Paris to study at the Sorbonne. Kirby-Smith went by the name Kirby.[7]

Lawrence Ferlinghetti at the Grolier Poetry Bookshop in Harvard Square in 1965 with Gordon Cairnie, the owner of the store at the time

As the owner of the City Lights bookstore, Ferlinghetti was arrested for publishing Allen Ginsberg's Howl, which resulted in a lengthy First Amendment trial.[8]


A sample of Ferlinghetti's work at San Francisco's Jack Kerouac Alley, which is adjacent to the City Lights Bookstore

If you would be a poet, create works capable of answering the challenge of

apocalyptic times, even if this meaning sounds apocalyptic.

You are Whitman, you are Poe, you are Mark Twain, you are Emily Dickinson and Edna St. Vincent Millay, you are Neruda and Mayakovsky and Pasolini, you are an American or a non-American, you can conquer the conquerors with words. ...

Ferlinghetti published many of the Beat poets and is considered by some as a Beat poet as well.[9] Yet Ferlinghetti does not consider himself to be a Beat poet, as he says in the 2013 documentary Ferlinghetti: Rebirth of Wonder: "Don't call me a Beat. I was never a Beat poet."[9]

Ferlinghetti penned much of his early poetry in the vein of T. S. Eliot.[10] Ferlinghetti told poet and critic Jack Foley, "Everything I wrote sounded just like him."[10] Yet, even in his poems inspired by Eliot such as Ferlinghetti's "Constantly Risking Absurdity," Ferlinghetti is ever the populist as he compares the poet first to a trapeze artist in a circus and then to a "little charleychaplin man."[10]

Critics note that Ferlinghetti's poetry often takes on a very visual dimension as befits this poet who is also a painter.[11] As the poet and critic Jack Foley states, Ferlinghetti's poems "tell little stories, make 'pictures'."[12] Ferlinghetti as a poet paints with his words pictures full of color capturing the average American experience as seen in his poem "In Golden Gate Park that Day: "In Golden Gate Park that day/ a man and his wife were coming along/ ... He was wearing green suspenders ... while his wife was carrying a bunch of grapes."[11] In the first poem in A Coney Island of the Mind entitled, "In Goya's Greatest Scenes, We Seem To See," Ferlinghetti describes with words the "suffering humanity" that Goya portrayed by brush in his paintings.[10] Ferlinghetti concludes his poem with the recognition that "suffering humanity" today might be painted as average Americans drowning in the materialism: "on a freeway fifty lanes wide/ a concrete continent/ spaced with bland billboards/ illustrating imbecile illusions of happiness."[13]

Ferlinghetti takes a distinctly populist approach to poetry, emphasizing throughout his work "that art should be accessible to all people, not just a handful of highly educated intellectuals."[14] Larry Smith, an American author and editor, stated that Ferlinghetti is a poet, "of the people engaged conscientiously in the creation of new poetic and cultural forms."[5] This perception of art as a broad socio-cultural force, as opposed to an elitist academic enterprise, is explicitly evident in Poem 9 from Pictures of the Gone World, wherein the speaker states: "'Truth is not the secret of a few' / yet / you would maybe think so / the way some / librarians / and cultural ambassadors and / especially museum directors / act" (1–8). In addition to Ferlinghetti's aesthetic egalitarianism, this passage highlights two additional formal features of the poet's work, namely, his incorporation of a common American idiom as well as his experimental approach to line arrangement which, as Crale Hopkins notes, is inherited from the poetry of William Carlos Williams.[15]

Reflecting his broad aesthetic concerns, Ferlinghetti's poetry often engages with several non-literary artistic forms, most notably jazz music and painting. William Lawlor asserts that much of Ferlinghetti's free verse attempts to capture the spontaneity and imaginative creativity of modern jazz; the poet is also notable for frequently incorporating jazz accompaniments into public readings of his work.[16]

Political engagement[]

Soon after settling in San Francisco in 1950, Ferlinghetti met the poet Kenneth Rexroth, whose concepts of philosophical anarchism influenced his political development. He self-identifies as a philosophical anarchist, regularly associated with other anarchists in North Beach, and he sold Italian anarchist newspapers at the City Lights Bookstore.[17] A critic of U.S. foreign policy, Ferlinghetti has taken a stand against totalitarianism[Clarification needed] and war. While Ferlinghetti has said he is "an anarchist at heart", he concedes that the world would need to be populated by "saints" in order for pure anarchism to be lived practically. Hence he espouses what can be achieved by Scandinavian-style democratic socialism.[18]

Ferlinghetti's work challenges the definition of art and the artist's role in the world. He urged poets to be engaged in the political and cultural life of the country. As he writes in Populist Manifesto: "Poets, come out of your closets, Open your windows, open your doors, You have been holed up too long in your closed worlds ... Poetry should transport the public / to higher places / than other wheels can carry it ..."

On January 14, 1967, he was a featured presenter at the Gathering of the tribes "Human Be-In," which drew tens of thousands of people and launched San Francisco's "Summer of Love." In 1968, he signed the "Writers and Editors War Tax Protest" pledge, vowing to refuse tax payments in protest against the Vietnam War.[19]

In 1998, in his inaugural address as Poet Laureate of San Francisco, Ferlinghetti urged San Franciscans to vote to remove a portion of the earthquake-damaged Central Freeway and replace it with a boulevard. "What destroys the poetry of a city? Automobiles destroy it, and they destroy more than the poetry. All over America, all over Europe in fact, cities and towns are under assault by the automobile, are being literally destroyed by car culture. But cities are gradually learning that they don't have to let it happen to them. Witness our beautiful new Embarcadero! And in San Francisco right now we have another chance to stop Autogeddon from happening here. Just a few blocks from here, the ugly Central Freeway can be brought down for good if you vote for Proposition E on the November ballot."[20] The result was Octavia Boulevard.

In March 2012 he added his support to the movement to save the Gold Dust Lounge, a historic bar in San Francisco, which lost its lease in Union Square.


Alongside his bookselling and publishing, Ferlinghetti painted for 60 years and much of his work was displayed in galleries and museums throughout the United States.[21]

In 2009, Ferlinghetti became a member of the Honour Committee of the Italian artistic literary movement IMMAGINE&POESIA, founded under the patronage of Aeronwy Thomas. A retrospective of Ferlinghetti's artwork, 60 Years of Painting, was staged in Rome and Reggio Calabria in 2010.[22]

Jack Kerouac Alley[]

In 1987, he was the initiator of the transformation of Jack Kerouac Alley, located at the side of his shop. He presented his idea to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors calling for repavement and renewal.[23]

Career Award Plaque conferred on October 28, 2017, at the Premio di Arti Letterarie Metropoli di Torino, Italy


Ferlinghetti has received numerous awards, including the Los Angeles Times' Robert Kirsch 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 Earl Warren Civil Liberties Award. He won the Premio Taormina in 1973, and since then has been awarded the Premio Camaiore, the Premio Flaiano, the Premio Cavour, among other honors in Italy. The Career Award was conferred on October 28, 2017 at the XIV edition of the Premio di Arti Letterarie Metropoli di Torino in Turin.[24]

Ferlinghetti was named San Francisco's Poet Laureate in August 1998 and served for two years. In 2003 he was awarded the Robert Frost Memorial Medal, the Author's Guild Lifetime Achievement Award, and he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2003. The National Book Foundation honored him with the inaugural Literarian Award (2005), given for outstanding service to the American literary community. In 2007 he was named Commandeur, French Order of Arts and Letters. In 2008, Ferlinghetti was awarded the John Ciardi Award for Lifetime Achievement in Poetry. This award is handed out by the National Italian American Foundation to honor the author who has made the greatest contribution to the writing of Italian American poetry.[21]

In 2012, Ferlinghetti was awarded the inaugural Janus Pannonius International Poetry Prize from the Hungarian PEN Club. After learning that the government of Hungary under Prime Minister Viktor Orbán is a partial sponsor of the €50,000 prize, he declined to accept the award. In declining, Ferlinghetti cited his opposition to the "right-wing regime" of Prime Minister Orbán, and his opinion that the ruling Hungarian government under Mr. Orbán is curtailing civil liberties and freedom of speech for the people of Hungary.[25][26][27][28]

In popular culture[]

The Italian band Timoria dedicated the song "Ferlinghetti Blues" (from the album El Topo Grand Hotel) to the poet, where Ferlinghetti recites one of his poems. Recordings of Ferlinghetti reading want ads, as featured on radio station KPFA in 1957, were recorded by Henry Jacobs and are featured on the Meat Beat Manifesto album 'At the Center'. Ferlinghetti gave Canadian punk band Propagandhi permission to use his painting The Unfinished Flag of the United States, which features a map of the world painted in the stars and stripes, as the cover of their 2001 release Today's Empires, Tomorrow's Ashes. Before this, the same painting was used for the cover of Michael Parenti's 1995 book, Against Empire, which was published by City Lights.

Ferlinghetti recited the poem Loud Prayer at The Band's final performance. The concert was filmed by Martin Scorsese and released as a documentary entitled The Last Waltz, which included Ferlinghetti's recitation. Julio Cortázar, in his Rayuela (Hopscotch) (1963) references a poem from A Coney Island of the Mind in Chapter 121. He appears as himself in the 2006 comedy film The Darwin Awards. Bob Dylan used Ferlinghetti's "Baseball Canto" on the Baseball show of Theme Time Radio Hour. Roger McGuinn, the former leader of the Byrds, referred to Ferlinghetti and "A Coney Island of the Mind" in his song "Russian Hill", from his 1977 album Thunderbyrd. Cyndi Lauper was inspired by A Coney Island of the Mind to write the song "Into the Nightlife" for her 2008 album Bring Ya to the Brink. Seamus McNally's 2007 filmed adaptation of Jacques Prévert's "To Paint the Portrait of a Bird" uses Ferlinghetti's English translation as its narrative text. The Residents mention Ferlinghetti in the lyrics of their song "Sinister Exaggerator" (from the EP Duck Stab!).

The Blue Devils Drum and Bugle Corps's 2008 marching show was entitled "Constantly Risking Absurdity", with movements entitled after various lines in Ferlinghetti's poem. The corps took second place at the Drum Corps International Finals. Aztec Two-Step is an American folk-rock band formed by Rex Fowler and Neal Shulman at a chance meeting on open stage at a Boston coffee house, the Stone Phoenix, in 1971. The band was named after a line from the poem "A Coney Island of the Mind" by Ferlinghetti. Bristol Sound band Unforscene used Ferlinghetti's poem "Pictures of the Gone World 11" (or "The World is a Beautiful Place ...") in the song "The World Is" on its 2002 album New World Disorder.

In 2011, Ferlinghetti contributed two of his poems to the celebration of the 150th Anniversary of Italian unification: Song of the Third World War and Old Italians Dying inspired the artists of the exhibition Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Italy 150 held in Turin, Italy (May–June 2011).[29] On the book of lithographs The Sea Within Us first published in Italy as Il Mare Dentro in 2012, Ferlinghetti collaborated with lithographer and abstract artist James Claussen.[30][31]

Christopher Felver made the 2013 documentary on Ferlinghetti, Lawrence Ferlinghetti: A Rebirth of Wonder.[32]


  • Ferlinghetti, Lawrence (1955). Pictures of the Gone World, (enlarged, 1995). San Francisco: City Lights. ISBN 9780872863033. "Poetry" 
  • Ferlinghetti, Lawrence (1958). A Coney Island of the Mind. New Directions. ISBN 9780872863033. "Poetry" 
  • Tentative Description of a Dinner Given to Promote the Impeachment of President Eisenhower (Golden Mountain Press, 1958) Broadside poem
  • Her (New Directions, 1960) Prose
  • One Thousand Fearful Words for Fidel Castro (City Lights, 1961) Broadside poem
  • Starting from San Francisco (New Directions, 1961) Poetry (HC edition includes LP of author reading selections)
  • Journal for the Protection of All Beings (City Lights, 1961) Journal
  • Unfair Arguments with Existence (New Directions, 1963) Short Plays
  • Where is VietNam? (Golden Mountain Press, 1963) Broadside poem
  • Routines (New Directions, 1964) 12 Short Plays
  • Two Scavengers in a Truck, Two Beautiful People in a Mercedes (1968)
  • On the Barracks: Journal for the Protection of All Beings 2 (City Lights, 1968) Journal
  • Tyrannus Nix? (New Directions, 1969) Poetry
  • The Secret Meaning of Things (New Directions, 1970) Poetry
  • The Mexican Night (New Directions, 1970) Travel journal
  • Back Roads to Far Towns After Basho (City Lights, 1970) Poetry
  • Love Is No Stone on the Moon (ARIF, 1971) Poetry
  • Open Eye, Open Heart (New Directions, 1973) Poetry
  • Who Are We Now? (New Directions, 1976) Poetry
  • Northwest Ecolog (City Lights, 1978) Poetry
  • Landscapes of Living and Dying (1980) ISBN 0-8112-0743-9
  • Over All the Obscene Boundaries (1986)
  • Love in the Days of Rage (E. P. Dutton, 1988; City Lights, 2001) Novel
  • A Buddha in the Woodpile (Atelier Puccini, 1993)
  • These Are My Rivers: New & Selected Poems, 1955–1993 (New Directions, 1993) ISBN 0-8112-1252-1
  • City Lights Pocket Poets Anthology (City Lights, 1995) ISBN 978-0-87286-311-8
  • A Far Rockaway Of The Heart (New Directions, 1998) ISBN 0-8112-1347-1
  • How to Paint Sunlight: Lyrics Poems & Others, 1997–2000 (New Directions, 2001) ISBN 0-8112-1463-X
  • San Francisco Poems (City Lights Foundation, 2001) Poetry ISBN 978-1-931404-01-3
  • Life Studies, Life Stories (City Lights, 2003) ISBN 978-0-87286-421-4
  • Americus: Part I (New Directions, 2004)
  • A Coney Island of the Mind (Arion Press, 2005), with portraiture by R.B. Kitaj
  • Poetry as Insurgent Art (New Directions, 2007) Poetry
  • A Coney Island of the Mind: Special 50th Anniversary Edition with a CD of the author reading his work (New Directions, 2008)
  • 50 Poems by Lawrence Ferlinghetti 50 Images by Armando Milani (Rudiano, 2010) Poetry and Graphics ISBN 978-88-89044-65-0
  • Time of Useful Consciousness, (Americus, Book II) (New Directions, 2012) ISBN 978-0-8112-2031-6, 88p.
  • City Lights Pocket Poets Anthology: 60th Anniversary Edition (City Lights, 2015)
  • I Greet You At The Beginning Of A Great Career: The Selected Correspondence of Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Allen Ginsberg 1955–1997. (City Lights, 2015)
  • Pictures of the Gone World: 60th Anniversary Edition (City Lights, 2015)
  • Writing Across the Landscape: Travel Journals, 1960-2010 (Norton, 2015) ISBN 978-1-63149-001-9
  • Ferlinghetti, Lawrence (2019). Little Boy. Doubleday. ISBN 9780385544795.  Novel


  • Lawrence Ferlinghetti with Helium (1997). "Kerouac: Kicks Joy Darkness" (in English). Rykodisc. 
  • Kenneth Rexroth & Lawrence Ferlinghetti (1957). "Poetry Readings in the Cellar (with the Cellar Jazz Quintet)" (in English). Fantasy Records. 7002. 
  • Lawrence Ferlinghetti (1958). "The Impeachment of Eisenhower" (in English). Fantasy Records. 7004. 
  • Lawrence Ferlinghetti (1970). "Tyrannus Nix? / Assassination Raga / Big Sur Sun Sutra / Moscow in the Wilderness" (in English). Fantasy Records. 7014. 
  • Lawrence Ferlinghetti (1999). "A Coney Island of the Mind" (in English). Rykodisc. 
  • Lawrence Ferlinghetti with David Amram (2005). "Pictures of the Gone World". Synergy. 


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 "Lawrence Ferlinghetti Biography". 
  2. Mark Howell (2007-09-30). "About The Beats: The Key West Interview: Lawrence Ferlinghetti, 1994". 
  3. Veltman, Chloe (March 20, 2019). "City Lights founder Lawrence Ferlinghetti: 'The US isn't ready for a revolution'". 
  4. "Academic.Brooklyn". 
  5. 5.0 5.1 Robinson, Janice S. (1984). "Review of Lawrence Ferlinghetti: Poet-at-Large". pp. 119–20. Digital object identifier:10.2307/2925929. JSTOR 2925929. 
  6. Zinser, Lynn (January 20, 2012). "Lawrence Ferlinghetti Revives His Love of the 49ers at 92". The New York Times. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 Julian Guthrie (2012-09-24). "Lawrence Ferlinghetti's indelible image". SFGate. 
  8. Kaplan, Fred (2010-09-24). "How 'Howl' Changed the World" (in en-US). Slate. ISSN 1091-2339. 
  9. 9.0 9.1 Gold, Daniel (February 7, 2013). "A Beat Generation Star Who Won't Answer to that Name". The New York Times. 
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 Foley, Jack (2008). "A Second Coming". 
  11. 11.0 11.1 Landauer, Susan and Carl (March 1, 2015). "Open Eye, Open Palette: The Art of Lawrence Ferlinghetti.". pp. 93–108. 
  12. Foley, Jack (2008). "A Second Coming". 
  13. Ferlinghetti, Lawrence (2015). A Coney Island of the Mind (50th Anniversary ed.). New Directions. p. 1. ISBN 9780811217477. 
  14. "Lawrence Ferlinghetti". 
  15. Hopkins, Crale (1974). "The Poetry of Lawrence Ferlinghetti: A Reconsideration". pp. 59–76. JSTOR 29775818. 
  16. Lawlor, William (2005). Beat Culture: Lifestyles, Icons, and Impact. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO. pp. 34–37. ISBN 9781851094059. Retrieved November 4, 2016. 
  17. Kelly, Kevin (Winter 1988). "Lawrence Ferlinghetti – interview". Whole Earth Review.  "I'm in the anarchist tradition. By "anarchist" I don't mean someone with a homemade bomb in his pocket. I mean philosophical anarchism in the tradition of Herbert Reed in England."
  18. Felver, Christopher. 1996 The Coney Island of Lawrence Ferlinghetti. San Francisco: Mystic Fire Video [documentary film].
  19. "Writers and Editors War Tax Protest" January 30, 1968, New York Post
  20. "Poetry and City Culture". Address at the San Francisco Public Library, October 13, 1998. Accessed February 19, 2016.
  21. 21.0 21.1 "Lawrence Ferlinghetti Wins the John Ciardi Award for Lifetime Achievement in Poetry". 2008. pp. 167–170. JSTOR 41353794. 
  22. Lawrence Ferlinghetti: 60 years of painting, edited by Giada Diano and Elisa Polimeni, Silvana Editoriale, Cinisello Balsamo (MI), 2009
  23. Nolte, Carl (March 30, 2007). "Kerouac Alley has face-lift". San Francisco Chronicle. 
  24. "Arte Città Amica". Arte Città Amica. 
  25. Christopher Young (October 12, 2012). "Beat this: Lawrence Ferlinghetti refuses Hungarian cash award". 
  26. Carolyn Kellogg (October 11, 2012). "Lawrence Ferlinghetti declines Hungarian award over human rights".,0,2002635.story. 
  27. Ron Friedman and AP (October 13, 2012). "Following Elie Wiesel's Lead, US Poet Rejects Hungarian Award". The Times of Israel. 
  28. Harriet Staff (October 11, 2012). "Lawrence Ferlinghetti Declines 50,000 Euro Prize from Hungarian PEN Club". 
  29. "Evento Ferlinghetti: La poesia incontra l'arte". Arte Citta' Amica. 2001-06-03. 
  30. "James Claussen". 
  31. "The Sea Within Us". 
  32. "A Beat-Generation Star Who Won't Answer to the Name". The New York Times. February 7, 2013. 

Further reading[]

  • Charters, Ann, ed (1992). The Portable Beat Reader. New York: Penguin Books. 
  • Cherkovski, Neeli (1979). Ferlinghetti: A Biography. New York: Doubleday. 
  • Collins, Ronald; Skover, David (2013). Mania: The Story of the Outraged & Outrageous Lives that Launched a Cultural Revolution. Top-Five Books. 
  • Morgan, Bill, ed (2015). I Greet You at the Beginning of a Great Career: The Selected Correspondence of Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Allen Ginsberg, 1955–1997. San Francisco: City Lights Publishers. 
  • Pescara, Walter (2005). Lawrence Ferlinghetti – Italian Tour. Nicolodi. "2006 – special edition, not for sale" 
  • Silesky, Barry (1990). Ferlinghetti: The Artist in His Time. New York: Warner Books. 
  • Silverberg, Ira (2018). "Lawrence Ferlinghetti on the old San Francisco, his new novel, and his first 100 years" (in en-US). Document Journal. 
  • Skau, Michael (1989). Constantly Risking Absurdity: The Writings of Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Whitson. 
  • Smith, Larry R. (1983). Lawrence Ferlinghetti: Poet-at-Large. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press. 
  • Theado, Matt (2003). The Beats: A Literary Reference. New York: Carroll & Graf. 

External links[]

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