Lawrence Ferlinghetti, a 101-year-old American poet, passed away on Tuesday 23 February. Ferlinghetti owned a famous and ancient bookstore in San Francisco, it was considered the temple of the Beat Generation. The beat movement spread in the 1950s as a rebellion against conventional US society values and materialism. The counterculture arisen from the Beat Generation manifested itself through jazz rhythm and drug experimentation, as well as through sex and writing, and the crude representation of the human condition.
His son Lorenzo gave the news of his death, announcing that his father took his last breath in his home in San Francisco, due to a lung disease.
Ferlinghetti was born in 1919, at the end of the First World War, in New York (even if his father was Italian, from Brescia), and between the fifties and sixties he became very popular as editor of the New York publishing house City Lights, publishing the poets he himself discovered such as Ginsberg, Kerouac, Burroughs and Corso. Ferlinghetti was a talented poet, especially if we consider that his poetry collection, A Coney Island of the Mind, has sold more than a million copies in the United States. But his works have also been published and translated in other countries of the world.
Of course, the City Lights bookstore is still standing today, honoring the purpose with which Ferlinghetti had carried it forward for so many years. In 1968 he told the New York Times that “City Lights was the only place in San Francisco where you could walk in, sit down and read a book without anyone being able to force you to buy anything […] I had this idea of a bookstore that could also become a cultural center, and I knew it would also be the perfect place for a publishing house”.
Ferlinghetti continued to publish books and poetry till the end, and until two decades ago he kept on performing poetry readings on college campuses.
City Lights employees paid homage to the latest member of the beat generation in this way:
“Ferlinghetti was instrumental in democratizing American literature by creating (with Peter D. Martin) the country’s first all-paperback bookstore in 1953, jumpstarting a movement to make diverse and inexpensive quality books widely available. He envisioned the bookstore as a “Literary Meeting Place,” where writers and readers could congregate to shares ideas about poetry, fiction, politics, and the arts.
For over sixty years, those of us who have worked with him at City Lights have been inspired by his knowledge and love of literature, his courage in defense of the right to freedom of expression, and his vital role as an American cultural ambassador. His curiosity was unbounded and his enthusiasm was infectious, and we will miss him greatly.
We intend to build on Ferlinghetti’s vision and honor his memory by sustaining City Lights into the future as a center for open intellectual inquiry and commitment to literary culture and progressive politics. Though we mourn his passing, we celebrate his many contributions and give thanks for all the years we were able to work by his side.”