Lawrence Ferlinghetti biography
Lawrence Ferlinghetti was born on March 24, 1919, in Yonkers, New York. In 1953 he opened the City Lights Pocket Book Shop, a gathering place for the literary avant-garde. In 1955 his new City Lights Press published his collection Pictures of the Gone World. His collectionA Coney Island of the Mind (1958), became the best-selling book by any living American poet in the second half of the 20th century.
Early Life and Education
Lawrence Ferlinghetti, whose birth name is Lawrence Monsanto Ferling, was born on March 24, 1919, in Yonkers, New York. His father, had shortened the family name when he emigrated from Italy, but Lawrence took back the lengthier name as an adult. His father died before his birth, and his mother was committed to a mental hospital. Ferlinghetti's aunt raised him, mostly in France, until they moved and settled on Long Island, New York. Ferlinghetti began writing poetry at the age of 12 and attended several different schools during his youth. After high school, he attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and was awarded a bachelor's degree in journalism in 1941.
World War II and After
In 1942, following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Ferlinghetti enlisted in the military and eventually served as a naval officer. During the Normandy invasion, he served on a submarine chaser. Near the end of the war, Ferlinghetti also visited Nagasaki, six weeks after the dropping of the atomic bomb, a haunting experience that ignited his interest in politics and pacifism.
After his time in the military, Ferlinghetti redevoted himself to his education. He earned a master's degree in literature from Columbia University in 1947, and his doctorate from the Sorbonne in Paris.
City Lights and the Beat Movement
In 1951, Ferlinghetti left Paris for San Francisco, and two years later he opened the City Lights Pocket Book Shop, a Chinatown establishment that would soon become the hub of a literary revolution. The store was a gathering place for avant-garde artists, including poets, painters and writers. His City Lights Press published some of the Beat poets' most influential works in its Pocket Poets editions, including Allen Ginsberg's Howl and Other Poems in 1956, the publication of which resulted in a trial for obscenity charges in 1957. Ferlinghetti was found not guilty on the basis of free speech, and ultimately the trial's publicity helped the poet gain notoriety.
Ferlinghetti published the collection Pictures of the Gone World in 1955. Three years later, A Coney Island State of the Mind was published to commercial success. Ferlinghetti also published the work of Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs and Denise Levertov.
Like the Beat poets that Ferlinghetti is associated with, he is an antiestablishment thinker and has become a symbol of the counterculture. He believes in writing poetry for the masses, not just the educated elite. Ferlinghetti's style is simple, conversational and witty. He often focuses on political issues, and supports pacifism and uninhibited free speech.
In 2012, Ferlinghetti refused the Janus Pannonius International Poetry Prize, an award upwards of $60,000, because the prize was funded in part by the Hungarian government, which Ferlinghetti has been critical of for its authoritarian leanings.
In addition to poetry, Ferlinghetti has published novels and plays and is a serious painter. From 1998 to 2000, Ferlinghetti was named poet laureate of San Francisco, where he still lives.