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Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Lawrence FerlinghettiAKA Lawrence Monsanto Ferling

Born: 24-Mar-1919
Birthplace: Yonkers, NY
Died: 22-Feb-2021
Location of death: San Francisco, CA
Cause of death: unspecified

Gender: Male
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Poet

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: A Coney Island of the Mind

Military service: US Navy (WWII) Lieutenant Commander

Lawrence Ferlinghetti's father died before he was born, and in his infancy his mother was committed to an insane asylum. After that, young Lawrence was shipped to France to live with his aunt and uncle, and returned to America at the age of five, speaking much better French than English. As a teenager he earned the rank of Eagle Scout, and as a young man he hitchhiked and rode freight trains to Mexico, accompanied by a few friends and a tall stack of books. He served in the US Navy during World War II, and was stationed in Nagasaki after the war's atomic end. "Anyone who saw Nagasaki," he later wrote, "would suddenly realize that they'd been kept in the dark by the United States government as to what atomic bombs can do."

In 1953, he opened the City Lights Bookstore at the corner of Columbus and Broadway in San Francisco. Ferlinghetti and friends had written prose and poetry rejected by the major publishers of their time, so he published affordable paperback editions of his own and his friends' works. The company's fourth title was Howl and Other Poems by Allen Ginsberg, including what is probably the most widely-quoted passage in 20th Century poetry: "I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix ..." The book ignited the Beat Generation, which foreshadowed the 1960s and '70s decades of change, but before it became a respected classic, Howl was wildly controversial for its references to illegal drugs and sex of all persuasions.

Ferlinghetti was soon arrested on obscenity charges -- for words printed on paper. With backing from the American Civil Liberties Union and a bevy of well-respected poets, he was acquitted at a landmark trial, where the judge decided that obscenity laws could not be enforced if a work offered "the slightest redeeming social significance." The precedent from that case later allowed the publication of such "obscene" works as Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer and William S. Burroughs' Naked Lunch.

Another book from City Lights was Ferlinghetti's own A Coney Island of the Mind. His best poems include "Dog", inspired by Ferlinghetti's best friend Homer, "Sometime During Eternity", a reflection on religion, "Tyrannus Nix", an attack against Richard M. Nixon at the height of his presidency, and his ode to San Francisco, "The Changing Light". Ferlinghetti was also fictionalized as Lorenzo Monsanto, who owned the remote, rustic cabin that was the setting for Jack Kerouac's Big Sur, and urged the novel's narrator to stop drinking and take an extended hike (with disastrous results).

Ferlinghetti was named Poet Laureate of San Francisco in 1998, and since 2001, he has been an outspoken opponent of the Bush administration, which he accuses of "capitalizing on the national paranoia that's been generated by 9/11 so that they can pass all kinds of legislation limiting free speech and invading individual privacy." In good health for a man in his 80s, Ferlinghetti still writes and works in his City Lights bookstore, which is still at the same location, and still publishes affordable paperbacks by struggling authors.

Father: Carlo Ferlinghetti ("Charles")
Mother: Clemence Albertine Mendes-Monsanto (institutionalized for insanity)
Wife: Kirby (m. 1951, div. 1976, one daughter, one son)
Daughter: Julie Sasser
Son: Lorenzo

    High School: Mount Hermon School, Northfield, MA
    University: BA, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
    University: MA, Columbia University (1947)
    University: PhD, Sorbonne (1950)

    The San Francisco Chronicle Weekly columnist
    Disarm Education Fund National Advisory Board
    Fair Play for Cuba Committee
    Eagle Scout
    Italian Ancestry
    Portuguese Ancestry

    Obscene (9-Sep-2007) · Himself
    The Darwin Awards (25-Jan-2006) · Himself
    The Source (23-Jan-1999) · Himself
    What Happened to Kerouac? (16-Apr-1986) · Himself
    The Last Waltz (26-Apr-1978) · Himself

Official Website:

Author of books:
Pictures of the Gone World (1955, poetry)
A Coney Island of the Mind (1958, poetry)
Her (1960, novel)
Starting from San Francisco (1961, poetry)
Unfair Arguments with Existence (1963, poetry)
Routines (1964, poetry)
The Secret Meaning of Things (1969, poetry)
Tyrannus Nix? (1969, poetry)
The Mexican Night (1970, poetry)
Back Roads to Far Places (1971, poetry)
Open Eye, Open Heart (1973, poetry)
Who Are We Now? (1976, poetry)
Over All the Obscene Boundaries: European Poems & Transitions (1984, poetry)
Love in the Days of Rage (1988, novel)
These Are My Rivers: New & Selected Poems, 1955-1993 (1993, poetry)
A Far Rockaway of the Heart (1997, poetry)
How to Paint Sunlight (2001, poetry)
San Francisco Poems (2002, poetry)
Americus, Book I (2004, poetry)

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