Poet, playwright, publisher, and activist Lawrence Ferlinghetti was born Lawrence Monsanto Ferling on March 24, 1919, in Yonkers, New York. His father, an Italian immigrant, had abbreviated his last name upon his arrival in America. when ferlinghetti discovered the longer name as an adult, he took it as his own. He had a tumultuous youth, part of which he spent in France, an orphanage in Chappaqua, New York, and at the wealthy Bisland family mansion in Bronxville, New York. he attended riverdale rural day school, mount hermon, a preparatory academy in massachusetts and the university of north carolina, where he majored in journalism. Upon graduation, he joined the United States Navy. After unloading on him, Ferlinghetti took advantage of the G.I. bill to continue his education. He earned his M.A. from Columbia University in 1948 and completed his Ph.D. from the University of Paris in 1951. He then moved to San Francisco, California, where he played a key role in the San Francisco literary renaissance of the 1950s and was essential for establishing the subsequent time signature movement. In 1998 he was named San Francisco’s first Poet Laureate.
Ferlinghetti’s most famous collection, A Coney Island of the Mind (1958), has sold more than a million copies in the United States and abroad. He was the author of more than 30 poetry collections, including Time for Useful Consciousness (2012), Poetry as Insurgent Art (2005), San Francisco Poems (2001), How to Paint Sunlight: Lyrics and Others, 1997- 2000, a rock far from the heart (1997), these are my rivers: new and selected poems, 1955-1993, and endless life: selected poems (1981). Ferlinghetti’s many awards and honors included the Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Book Critics Circle, the Robert Frost Memorial Medal, and the National Book Foundation Literary Award, among others. He was elected a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2003, and in 2007 he was appointed Commander of the French Order of Arts and Letters.
Throughout his career, Ferlinghetti constantly challenged the status quo, asserting that art should be accessible to all people, not just a handful of highly educated intellectuals. Her poetry engages readers, challenges popular political movements, and reflects the influence of the American language and modern jazz. In Lawrence Ferlinghetti: Poet in General, Larry Smith noted that the author “writes truly memorable poetry, poems that lodge in the reader’s consciousness and spark awareness and change. and his writing sings, with the sad and comical music of the streets.” Smith observed that, from his first poems on, Ferlinghetti writes as “the contemporary man in the street expressing the truths of common experience, often to the reflective beat of the jazz musician.” such sentiments found a grateful audience among the youth of the mid-twentieth century who were anguished by the arms race and the politics of the cold war. New Pages contributor John Gill said that reading a Ferlinghetti work “will make you feel good about the poetry and the world, no matter how messed up the world is.”
In 1953, two years after his arrival in San Francisco, Ferlinghetti entered into a partnership with Peter D. martin to publish a magazine, city lights. To subsidize the publication, Martin and Ferlinghetti opened the City Lights paperback bookstore in a neighborhood on the edge of Chinatown. It became a popular gathering place for San Francisco’s avant-garde writers, poets, and painters. The bookstore’s publishing arm, the City Lights Pocket Poet Series, offered a forum for Beat writers like Allen Ginsberg, Kenneth Patchen, and Gregory Corso. Ferlinghetti’s slim volume Pictures of the Gone World (1955) was the first publication in the series. By 1955, Ferlinghetti counted among his friends poets such as Kenneth Rexroth, Allen Ginsberg, and Philip Whallen, as well as the novelist Jack Kerouac. Ferlinghetti was in the audience at the 1955 watershed poetry reading “Six Poets in Gallery Six,” at which Ginsberg unveiled his poem “Howl.” Ferlinghetti immediately recognized it as a classic, and in 1956 he published the first edition of Howl and Other Poems in the Pocket Poets series. The collection quickly sold out, and the second shipment of the book, seized by US customs and later released, prompted the infamous Howl Trial. The San Francisco Police Department arrested Ferlinghetti on charges of printing and selling lewd and indecent material. Ferlinghetti hired the American Civil Liberties Union to defend him and welcomed his court case as a free speech test. He won the suit on October 3, 1957. The publicity generated by the case spurred the San Francisco Renaissance and the Beat cause, and was vital in establishing definite principles for the often disparate goals of the various movements.
ferlinghetti sought to redeem poetry from the ivory towers of academia and offer it as a shared experience with ordinary people. In an interview with San Francisco Chronicle reporter Heidi Benson, Ferlinghetti explains why she prefers the use of the term “open” to “hitting” in characterizations of her own work: “Open poetry refers to what Pablo told me Neruda in Cuba in 1950 at the beginning of the Fidelista revolution: Neruda said, ‘I love your open poetry’, or he was referring to the broad content of my poetry, or, in a different way, to the poetry of heartbeats.”
in 1958, new directions published ferlinghetti’s a coney island of the mind. In Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Smith suggested that, in this collection, Ferlinghetti “broadened his stance and developed major themes of lawlessness, mass corruption, compromise, and a belief in the surreality and wonder of life. …was a revolutionary art of dissidence and contemporary application that jointly brought lyrical poetry into new realms of social and personal expression. it shines, it sings, it flattens and generates anger or love from that flattening, since it follows a basic motive of going down to reality and making of it what we can.”
Two other collections of ferlinghetti’s poetry provide insight into the development of the writer’s general style and thematic focus: Endless Life: Selected Poems (1981) and These Are My Rivers: New and Selected Poems, 1955-1993. The poems in Endless Life reflect the influences of E.E. cummings, kenneth rexroth and kenneth patchen, dealing with contemporary issues such as the anti-war and anti-nuclear movements. In Western American Literature, John Trimbur noted that Ferlinghetti writes “public poetry to challenge the guardians of the political and social status quo for the souls of his fellow citizens.” Joel Oppenheimer praised it in the New York Times Book Review, stating that he “he learned to write poems, in a way that those who see poetry as the province of the few and the educated could never have imagined.” ferlinghetti focuses on the political and sexual news in these are my rivers (1993). As Rochelle Ratner noted in the Library Journal, the poems are experimental in technique, often lacking common poetic devices like stanza breaks, and appear in unusual ways on the page, “with short lines in the left margin or moving across the page like a hand. follow the eye.” Ashley Brown, who, in today’s world literature, called Ferlinghetti “the greatest chronicler of our time,” commented, “Ferlinghetti writes in a very accessible language; he draws from pop culture and sports as much as the modern poets he celebrates.”
ferlinghetti also published acclaimed fiction. Her latest novel was Little Boy (2019), which Ron Charles described as “a volcanic explosion of personal recollections, political rants, social commentary, environmental jeremiads, and cultural analysis” in the Washington Post. Ferlinghetti’s famous novel Love in the Days of Anger (1988) takes place in Paris in 1968, during the student revolution; tells a love story between an expatriate American painter and a Portuguese banker and anarchist. Alex Raksin, discussing love in the days of wrath in the Los Angeles Times book review, praised the work as an “intense and original novel” in which Ferlinghetti’s “sensitivity as a painter…is most evident.” . Criticizing it for the San Francisco Book Review, Patrick Burson explained that the book “challenges the reader on several stylistic levels while attempting to reflect the ’68 anarchist uprising that briefly united intellectuals, artists, and proletarians in a common cause.”
Ferlinghetti’s often brief surreal plays have been performed in theaters throughout San Francisco, and he has exhibited paintings and drawings in numerous galleries.
died in early 2021, at the age of 101. He lived in San Francisco, where a street is named in his honor.