A prominent voice of the wide-open poetry movement that began in the 1950s, Lawrence Ferlinghetti writes poetry, translation, fiction, theater, art criticism, film narration, and essays. His A Coney Island of the Mind continues to be one of the most popular poetry books in the U.S., with over 1,000,000 copies in print.
Ferlinghetti was born on March 24, 1919, son of Carlo Ferlinghetti, an immigrant from Brescia, Italy, and Clemence 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. In 1945, just after the atomic bomb obliterated Nagasaki, he witnessed firsthand the horrific ruins of the city. This experience was the origin of his lifelong antiwar stance.
Ferlinghetti received a Master’s degree in English Literature from Columbia University in 1947 and a Doctorate de l’Université de Paris (Sorbonne) in 1950. He took up residence in San Francisco, and in 1953, with Peter D. Martin, founded City Lights Bookstore, the first all-paperback bookshop in the country. His goal was to create a “literary meeting place” for writers, readers, artists, and intellectuals.
In 1955, Ferlinghetti launched City Lights Publishers with the aim of creating “an international, dissident ferment.” The Pocket Poets series began with his own Pictures of the Gone World; translations by Kenneth Rexroth and poetry by Kenneth Patchen, Marie Ponsot, and Allen Ginsberg soon followed.
Copies of Ginsberg’s Howl & Other Poems were seized by authorities in 1956 and Ferlinghetti was arrested and charged with selling obscene material. He defended Howl in court, a case that drew national attention to the San Francisco Renaissance and Beat Generation writers, many of whom he later published.
In the 1960s, Ferlinghetti plunged into a life of frequent travel — giving poetry readings, taking part in festivals , happenings, and literary/political conferences around the world. A resolute progressive, he spoke out on such crucial political issues as the Cuban revolution, the nuclear arms race, farm-worker organizing, the Vietnam War, the Sandanista and Zapatista struggles, the wars in the Middle East.
Ferlinghetti’s paintings have been shown at a number of exhibitions and galleries in the U.S. and abroad.
Ferlinghetti was named San Francisco’s first Poet Laureate in August 1998, and has been the recipient of numerous awards. A prolific author, he has a dozen books currently in print, most recently in 2015, Writing Across the Landscape: Travel Journals (1950-2013), published by W. W. Norton’s Liveright imprint. He is currently at work on a novel.
Publications and Prizes
Books:A Far Rockaway of the Heart
(New Directions, 2018), Writing Across the Landscape: Travel Journals 1960-2010
(Liveright, 2015), I Greet You At The Beginning Of A Great Career: The Selected Correspondence of Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Allen Ginsberg 1955-1997
(City Lights Publishers, 2015), Pictures of the Gone World: 60th Anniversary Edition
(City Lights Publishers, 2015), Shards: Fragments of Verse
(New Directions, 2015), Time of Useful Consciousness
(New Directions, 2012), A Coney Island of the Mind: Special 50th Anniversary Edition
(New Directions, 2008), Poetry as Insurgent Art
(New Directions, 2007), Americus: Part I
(New Directions, 2004), How to Paint Sunlight: Lyrics Poems & Others, 1997–2000
(New Directions, 2001), San Francisco Poems
(City Lights Publishers, 2001), These Are My Rivers: New & Selected Poems, 1955–1993
(New Directions, 1993), Wild Dreams of a New Beginning
(New Directions, 1988), Over All the Obscene Boundaries: European Poems & Transitions
(New Directions, 1984), Who Are We Now?
(New Directions, 1976), Open Eye, Open Heart
(New Directions, 1973), The Secret Meaning of Things
(New Directions, 1970), Tyrannus Nix?
(New Directions, 1969), Routines
(New Directions, 1964), Starting from San Francisco
(New Directions, 1961), Her
(New Directions, 1960), A Coney Island of the Mind
(New Directions, 1958), Pictures of the Gone World
(City Lights Publishers, 1955)
Chapbooks:Blasts Cries Laughter
(New Directions, 2014)
Anthologies:City Lights Pocket Poets Anthology: 60th Anniversary Edition
(City Lights Publishers, 2015)
San Francisco Poet Laureate;
Los Angeles Times Robert Kirsch Award;
BABRA Award for Lifetime Achievement;
National Book Critics Circle Ivan Sandrof Award for Contribution to American Arts and Letters;
American Civil Liberties Union’s Earl Warren Civil Liberties Award;
Robert Frost Memorial Medal;
Authors Guild Lifetime Achievement Award;
American Academy of Arts and Letters Member;
Inaugural Literarian Award from the National Book Foundation;
Commandeur, Ordre des Arts et des Lettres;
Please note: All information in the Directory is provided by the listed writers or their representatives.
Listing last updated: August 25, 2016