DIGITAL EXHIBITION Lawrence Ferlinghetti: The Last Bohemian

Dublin Core



Lawrence Ferlinghetti: The Last Bohemian


Lawrence Ferlinghetti


Lawrence Monsanto Ferling  was born on March 24, 1919 in Yonkers, New York. His literary life began when his guardian became the governess for a wealthy couple, Presley and Anna Bisland, who encouraged his interest in their library and gave him silver dollars for memorizing poetry. He earned a degree in journalism from North Carolina and then entered the Navy to serve during World War II. His experiences in the Navy, and particularly witnessing the “landscape in hell” that remained of Nagasaki soon after the atomic bomb was dropped, affected him profoundly and directly resulted in his deep opposition to war. The G.I. Bill funded further studies, first a master’s degree from Columbia in English literature, where he wrote his thesis on John Ruskin and J.M.W. Turner, and then in Paris where he earned a doctorate in comparative literature.

In 1951, Ferlinghetti moved to San Francisco and two years later, he and Peter Martin opened City Lights Bookstore. The goal of the store fit with his politics and his desire to make literature accessible to everyone; when the publishing side, City Lights Pocket Poets, was begun, it was with the same focus on accessibility. By publishing poetry from around the world, they hoped to inspire "an international, dissident ferment." It also published works by the Beat Poets, and this was what brought fame to Ferlinghetti and the imprint.

Publishing Alan Ginsberg’s Howl resulted in Ferlinghetti being arrested on charges of printing and distributing indecent material. His trial was viewed as a test of the freedom of speech and the press. Ferlinghetti won, and as a result, the United States was suddenly filled with books that had previously been banned from import or publication.

While he was closely associated with the Beat poets, Ferlinghetti never considered himself one of them, saying, “In some ways what I really did was mind the store… When I arrived in San Francisco in 1951 I was wearing a beret. If anything I was the last of the bohemians rather than the first of the Beats.” In his poems, he advocated for progressive causes and the power of accessible literature to change the world, charging other poets with the responsibility to act, not merely observe, arguing that “you can conquer the conquerors with words…”

Along with writing poetry, Ferlinghetti painted, drew, and wrote novels and plays, with his last novel, the semi-autobiographical Little Boy, being published in 2019. In 1998, he was named San Francisco’s Poet Laureate, and his hundredth birthday was proclaimed Lawrence Ferlinghetti Day by San Francisco Mayor London Breed. In 2001, City Lights was designated a historic landmark by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti died of lung disease in his North Beach home on Monday, February 22, one month before his 102nd birthday.

Collection Items

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Dark Brown
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Chimeras: Transformations of Les Chimeres by Gerard de Nerval
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Six Poets of the San Francisco Renaissance: Portraits and Checklists
Six Poets includes photographs, biographies, bibliographies, and articles about Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Gary Snyder, Philip Whalen, David Meltzer, Michael McClure,and Brother Antoninus/William Everson.

Livre des Livres
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Literary San Francisco : a Pictorial History from its Beginnings to the Present
Literary San Francisco surveys, in photographs and incisive commentary, the literary greats and eccentric dreamers who lived in or left their mark on the city. Here is the full sweep of its literary history, from the California Indian oral tradition…

Flowers and Bullets & Freedom to Kill
Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko’s two poems in this small book use two individual deaths to address political tensions in the United States. In “Freedom to Kill,” about Kennedy’s assassination, he warns, “You shoot yourself, America. In “Flowers and…

Names of Twelve San Francisco Streets Changed to Honor Authors & Artists
In the autumn of 1988, twelve streets in San Francisco were renamed to honor writers, an action spurred by an idea by Ferlinghetti. This book commemorates the changes. In 1994 it was his turn to be honored by the renaming of Via Ferlinghetti.

The Poet's Eye: a Tribute to Lawrence Ferlinghetti
The Poet’s Eye includes tributes and poems by Richard Ogar, Jack Foley, Tom Clark, Ariel, Michael McClure, S.A. Griffin, Hettie Jones, David Meltzer, Nancy Peters, Ianthe Elizabeth Brautigan, Richard Brautigan, Joanne Kyger, Ron Loewinsohn, Andrew…
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