Lawrence Ferlinghetti, the poet, editor and political iconoclast who inspired and nurtured generations of San Francisco artists and writers from City Lights, his famous bookstore, died Monday at his San Francisco home. He was 101 years old.
The cause was interstitial lung disease, her daughter, Julie Sasser, said.
Spiritual godfather of the Beat movement, Mr. Ferlinghetti has settled in the modest independent book paradise now officially known as City Lights Booksellers & Publishers. A self-proclaimed “literary meeting place” founded in 1953 and located on the border of the sometimes chic and sometimes seedy neighborhood of North Beach, City Lights quickly became a part of the San Francisco scene along with the Golden Gate Bridge or Fisherman’s. Wharf. . (The city’s supervisory board designated it a historic monument in 2001.)
Although older and not a practitioner of their personal freestyle, Mr. Ferlinghetti befriended, published, and championed several of the great Beat poets, including Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso and Michael McClure. His connection to their work was illustrated – and cemented – in 1956 with the publication of Ginsberg’s most famous poem, the ribald and the revolutionary “Howl”, an act which later led to his arrest for printing “willfully and obscene. Of indecent writings. “
In an important First Amendment decision, Mr. Ferlinghetti was acquitted and “Howl” became one of the best-known poems of the 20th century. (The trial was the centerpiece of the 2010 film “Howl,” in which James Franco played Ginsberg and Andrew Rogers played Mr. Ferlinghetti.)
As well as being a champion of the Beats, Mr. Ferlinghetti was himself a prolific writer of many talents and interests whose work eluded easy definition, blending disarming simplicity, keen humor and social conscience.
“Every great poem fulfills a desire and puts life back together,” he wrote in a “non-lecture” after receiving the Frost Medal from the Poetry Society of America in 2003. A poem, did he added, “should manifest somewhere between the speeches and the song.” “
Critics and other poets have never agreed on whether Mr. Ferlinghetti should be considered a Beat poet. He himself did not think so.
“In a way, what I really did was run the store,” he told The Guardian in 2006. “When I came to San Francisco in 1951, I was wearing a beret. If anything, I was the Last of the Bohemians rather than the First of the Beats.
A full obituary will be published shortly.
Richard Severo, Peter Keepnews and Alex traub contribution to reports.