Allen Ginsberg, Neal Cassady, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and friends in front of City Lights Books shop, 1956. Photo: Peter Orlovsky
This Sunday is the 60th birthday of Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s renowned City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco.
City Lights was founded in North Beach at 261 Columbus Avenue in 1953 by Ferlinghetti and his partner Peter D. Martin as the country’s first all-paperback bookstore. The concept behind the bookstore was to make ideas and literature cheaply available to all people. This idea was carried over two years later to City Lights Publishers, with their small, affordable Pocket Poets series.
City Lights became interwoven in the legacy of the Beat Generation, with Ferlinghetti publishing books by Allen Ginberg (Howl and Other Poems, Kaddish), Gregory Corso (Gasoline), Frank O’Hara (Lunch Poems), Jack Kerouac (Pomes All Sizes and Scattered Poems), Diane di Prima (Revolutionary Letters), Philip Lamantia (Selected Poems 1943-1966) and Anne Waldman (Fast Speaking Woman). Ferlinghetti also published English translations of writers such as Vladimir Mayakovsky, Yevgeny Yevtushenko and Jacques Prévert. Its basement level has long featured an impressive stock of radical left-wing, progressive and revolutionary political literature.
It was the obscenity trial stemming from City Lights’ publication of Howl and Other Poems that earned the bookstore international attention in 1957. City Lights manager Shigeyoshi Murao was arrested for “disseminating obscene literature,” e.g., selling a copy of Howl and Other Poems to an undercover police officer and Ferlinghetti was arrested for publishing the book. After a well publicized trial and support from the American Civil Liberties Union, Ferlinghetti won the case. The book is still in print.
The store was officially made an official historic landmark by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 2001. Aspiring young writers still send their manuscripts to Ferlinghetti.
Interview with Lawrence Ferlinghetti from 2012
Via The Beat Museum