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Written by Oscar Holland, CNN

Lawrence Ferlinghetti, the Beat poet, publisher and founder of the famous City Lights bookstore in San Francisco, has died at the age of 101.

He died of lung disease Monday night, store vice president and director of marketing and advertising Stacey Lewis confirmed.

One of the last surviving members of the Beat Generation, Ferlinghetti played a key role in the expansion of the literary movement on the West Coast. An online tribute, posted on the City Lights website Tuesday, said Ferlinghetti had “been instrumental in the democratization of American literature.”

Lawrence Ferlinghetti, left, and Allen Ginsberg, center, watch Stella Kerouac autograph a book from her late husband, Jack Kerouac, in 1988. Credit: Jon Chase / AP

“For over 60 years, those of us who have worked with him at City Lights have been inspired by his knowledge and love of literature, his courage in defending the right to free speech and his vital role in ‘American Cultural Ambassador, “read post.” His curiosity was boundless and his enthusiasm was contagious, and he will be sorely missed. “

Born in New York in 1919, he co-founded the City Lights bookstore in the North Beach neighborhood of San Francisco in 1953. In 1955, he bought his co-founder Peter D. Martin, and expanded the business to include a house of edition of The same name.

Launching with the highly influential Pocket Poets Series, Ferlinghetti has published works by some of the most important literary figures of the postwar period, including poets Beat William S. Burroughs and Jack Kerouac. But it was an Allen Ginsberg poem, “Howl,” that would put him more in the spotlight.

San Francisco poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti and founder of City Lights bookstore has died aged 101

Lawrence Ferlinghetti recites a poem after winning the Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community at the National Book Awards in 2005. Credit: Henny Ray Abrams / AP

Authorities in San Francisco seized copies of Ginsberg’s “Howl and Other Poems” collection in 1957, published by City Lights the previous year. Ferlinghetti was arrested and tried for obscenity because of the book’s references to sex and drugs. The case caught the nation’s attention and sparked a huge censorship debate. Ferlinghetti was ultimately cleared, with the judge ruling that the book had “redemptive social significance” – a ruling that would more broadly change the approach of US courts to free creative expression.

While continuing to provide a meeting place for the scholars of San Francisco, Ferlinghetti was a distinguished poet in his own right. His famous 1958 collection “A Coney Island of the Mind” was a great commercial success and contained some of his best-known poems, including “I Am Waiting” and “Autobiography”.

Ferlinghetti was prolific thereafter, with his approachable and witty style captured in famous poems like “Two scavengers in a truck, two beautiful people in a Mercedes” and “Euphoria”. (“As I approach pure euphoria,” he memorably began the latter, “I find that I need a full-size typewriter case to carry my pennies. clothing.”)

San Francisco poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti and founder of City Lights bookstore has died aged 101

Lawrence Ferlinghetti gave a poetry reading at the Jazz Cellar nightclub in San Francisco in 1957. Credit: Nat Farbman / The LIFE Image Collection / Getty Images

He is the author of over 30 collections of poetry, addressing themes such as social evils and mass corruption. He continued to write into his later years, publishing his last novel “Little Boy” in 2019. On his 100th birthday that year, San Francisco celebrated his birthday on March 24, “Lawrence Ferlinghetti Day”.

City Lights also continued to serve as a meeting place for the city’s creative and literary communities, regularly hosting readings, lectures, and book signings. The store and its publishing subsidiary had, however, struggled to cope with the financial challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic. Last April, CEO and editor Elaine Katzenberger launched a GoFundMe campaign to raise the $ 300,000 she said she needed to keep the business afloat.

Nonetheless, in its online tribute, the company said it hopes to “build on Ferlinghetti’s vision and honor his memory by supporting City Lights into the future as a center of open intellectual inquiry and engagement for literary culture and progressive politics “.

Top image: Lawrence Ferlinghetti at his home in San Francisco, California on March 1, 2018.

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