Ferlinghetti, Lawrence

Ferlinghetti, Lawrence fûrˈlĭng-gĕtˈē [key], 1919–2021, American author and publisher, b. Yonkers, N.Y, as Lawrence Monsanto Ferling; Univ. of N.C. at Chapel Hill (BA, 1941); Columbia Univ. (MA, 1947); Univ. of the Sorbonne (Ph.D., 1950). Ferlinghetti’s father, a real-estate broker, died before he was born, and his mother was institutionalized when he was two-years-old; he was raised by a woman he called “Aunt Emily,” who took him to France for a period before returning to the United States. His luck changed when Aunt Emily found work with a wealthy couple who took over Lawrence’s care, sending him to a private high school in Massachusetts; he subsequently graduated from the Univ. of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, where he studied journalism. After serving in World War II, he earned a master's degree in English literature at Columbia Univ., then returned to Paris, where he completed his doctorate at the Sorbonne.

In 1951 Ferlinghetti moved to San Francisco and helped found the City Lights Bookshop in 1953, which became a center for writers of the beat generation In 1955, Ferlinghetti founded a related publishing company to publish his own poetry, which gained notoriety when it published Allen Ginsberg's collection Howl a year later. Following its publication, Ferlinghetti was arrested for selling pornographic material, but successfully fought the charges, setting an important precedent for other writers. He is best known for his volumes of colloquial verse such as A Coney Island of the Mind (1958), which has sold over a million copies to date,making it among the best-selling volumes of poetry ever published, Starting from San Francisco (1967), and Open Eye, Open Heart (1974); he also wrote essays, broadsides, plays, and the surrealist novel Her (1960). Among many other honors, Ferlinghetti was named the first poet laureate of San Francisco in 1998, and was awarded the first Literarian Award by the National Book Foundation in 2005 for his contribution to American arts and letters and named Commandeur, French Order of Arts and Letters in 2007.

See N. J. Peters, ed., Ferlinghetti's Greatest Poems (2018); his autobiography, Little Boy (2019); his travel writings, Writing Across the Landscape: Travel Journals (1960-2010) (2015).

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