A Brief History of Lawrence Ferlinghetti

A Brief History of Lawrence Ferlinghetti

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A Brief 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, son of Carlo Ferlinghetti
who was from the province of Brescia and Clemence Albertine
Mendes-Monsanto. Following his undergraduate years at the University
of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, he served in the U.S. Navy in World
War II as a ship's commander. He received a Master’s degree from
Columbia University in 1947 and a Doctorate de l’Université 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, with Peter D. Martin, he founded
City Lights Bookstore, the first all-paperbound bookshop in the
country, and by 1955 he had launched the City Lights publishing house.

The bookstore has served for half a century 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 the 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’s paintings have been shown at various galleries around
the world, from the Butler Museum of American Painting to Il Palazzo
delle Esposizioni in Rome. He has been associated with the
international Fluxus movement through the Archivio Francesco Conz in
Verona. He has toured Italy, giving poetry readings in Roma, Napoli,
Bologna, Firenze, Milano, Verona, Brescia, Cagliari, Torino, Venezia,
and Sicilia. He won the Premio Taormino in 1973, and since then has
been awarded the Premio Camaiore, the Premio Flaiano, the Premio
Cavour. among others. He is published in Italy by Oscar Mondadori,
City Lights Italia, and Minimum Fax. He was instrumental in arranging
extensive poetry tours in Italy produced by City Lights Italia in
Firenze. He has translated from the Italian Pier Paolo Pasolin’s Poemi
Romani, which is published by City Lights Books. In San Francisco, his
work can regularly be seen at the George Krevsky Gallery at 77 Geary

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Street.

Ferlinghetti’s A Coney Island of the Mind continues to be the most
popular poetry book in the U.S. It has been translated into nine
languages, and there are nearly 1,000,000 copies in print. The author
of poetry, plays, fiction, art criticism, and essays, he has a dozen
books currently in print in the U.S., and his work has been translated
in many countries and in many languages. His most recent books are A
Far Rockaway of the Heart (1997), How to Paint Sunlight (2001), and
Americus Book I (2004) published by New Directions.

He has been the recipient of numerous prizes, 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, the American Civil
Liberties Union’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.” In 2003 he was awarded the Robert Frost
Memorial Medal, the Author’s Guild Lifetime Achievement Award, and he
was elected to the prestigious American Academy of Arts and Letters.
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