An April 17 article in the Boston Globe notes that Lawrence Ferlinghetti has reached 87 and, still the symbol of the Beats, is still around. The article goes on to discuss the importance of Robert Frank's seminal, wonderful book, The Americans which was the visual equivalent of the Beat movement, Kerouac and Sandburg and the Beat poets rolled up into picture frames.
New England Poetry Club presented its Golden Rose Award to Lawrence Ferlinghetti at Harvard's Yenching Auditorium. Ferlinghetti, bless him, turned 87 last month: proprietor of City Lights Books, in San Francisco; author of ''A Coney Island of the Mind"; and grand old man of that least button-down of literary movements, the Beats.
Ferlinghetti, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and William S. Burroughs long ago barreled their way into the canon. They were as much a state of mind as anything else: advance scouts of the '60s, all T-shirts, beards, and Benzedrine, at a time when ties were tied, jaws were shaven, and drugs came out of medicine cabinets...
It's through Frank's book that the Beats profoundly affected how we see. Frank took the leading tradition of American photography — the documentary tradition, with its reverence for the particular, the tradition of Mathew Brady, Lewis Hine, Walker Evans — and doubly enlarged it. He emblematized the particular, making it mythic; and he vastly expanded the accepted view of what constituted vernacular photography.
City Lights gives a brief biography of Ferlinghetti and of the book store that was so much a part of our youth and the Beat scene into the hippy days of light and flower power as the 60s ended and the 70s began.
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.
Best to learn, however, is that Ferlinghetti started City Lights bookstore in 1953 (the first solely paperback bookstore in the United States) and soon after began City Lights Press. This has left City Lights bookstore as a major meeting place for writers, poets, and dissidents for something close to 50 years.