SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — Noted Beat movement poet and the founder of San Francisco’s City Lights Booksellers and Publishers Lawrence Ferlinghetti has died at age 101, according to the book store’s website.
City Lights Books confirmed that Ferlinghetti had passed on Monday evening with a post to its Twitter account and to the City Lights Books website.READ MORE: VIDEO: Woman Dragged By Car In Oakland Chinatown After Having Purse Snatched
"The greatest poem is lyric life itself."
Our poet and hero, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, passed away on Monday, February 22nd, in the evening.
— City Lights Books (@CityLightsBooks) February 23, 2021
“For over sixty 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 defense of the right to freedom of expression, and his vital role as an American cultural ambassador. His curiosity was unbounded and his enthusiasm was infectious, and we will miss him greatly,” a statement on the City Lights bookstore’s website said.
City Lights was founded by Ferlinghetti, a prominent member of the Beat movement, in 1953. The North Beach store is synonymous with the Beat Generation and published Allen Ginsberg’s famous and controversial poem “Howl.”
The poem led to a 1957 obscenity trial that broke new ground for freedom of expression.
City Lights served as an essential San Francisco meeting place for the Beats and other bohemians in the 1950s and beyond. Its publishing arm also released books by Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs and many others.
Ferlinghetti’s son Lorenzo told The Associated Press Tuesday that the cause of death was lung disease.
His father died “in his own room,” holding their hands “as he took his last breath,” his son said.
Lorenzo Ferlinghetti said his father loved Italian food and the restaurants in the North Beach neighborhood where he made his home. He had received the first dose of the COVID vaccine last week and was a month shy of turning 102.READ MORE: 2 San Francisco Residents Arrested On Drug, Gun Charges Following Pursuits In Fresno County
Few poets of the past 60 years were so well known or so influential. His books sold more than 1 million copies worldwide, a fantasy for virtually any of his peers, and he ran one of the world’s most famous and distinctive bookstores, City Lights.
Although he never considered himself one of the Beats, he was a patron and soul mate and, for many, a lasting symbol — preaching a nobler and more ecstatic American dream.
“Am I the consciousness of a generation or just some old fool sounding off and trying to escape the dominant materialist avaricious consciousness of America?” he asked in “Little Boy,” a stream of consciousness novel published around his 100th birthday.
Ferlinghetti defied history. The internet, superstore chains and high rents shut down numerous booksellers in the Bay Area and beyond, but City Lights remained a thriving political and cultural outlet, where one section was devoted to books enabling “revolutionary competence,” where employees could get the day off to attend an anti-war protest.
“Generally, people seem to get more conservative as they age, but in my case, I seem to have gotten more radical,” Ferlinghetti told Interview magazine in 2013. “Poetry must be capable of answering the challenge of apocalyptic times, even if this means sounding apocalyptic.”
Ferlinghetti, tall and bearded, with sharp blue eyes, could be soft-spoken, even introverted and reticent in unfamiliar situations. But he was the most public of poets and his work wasn’t intended for solitary contemplation.
It was meant to be recited or chanted out loud, whether in coffee houses, bookstores or at campus gatherings. His 1958 compilation, “A Coney Island of the Mind,” sold hundreds of thousands of copies in the U.S. alone. Long an outsider from the poetry community, Ferlinghetti once joked that he had “committed the sin of too much clarity.”
He called his style “wide open” and his work, influenced in part by e.e. cummings, was often lyrical and childlike: “Peacocks walked/under the night trees/in the lost moon/light/when I went out/looking for love,” he wrote in “Coney Island.”
Ferlinghetti also was a playwright, novelist, translator and painter and had many admirers among musicians. In 1976, he recited “The Lord’s Prayer” at the Band’s farewell concert, immortalized in Martin Scorsese’s “The Last Waltz.” The folk-rock band Aztec Two-Step lifted its name from a line in the title poem of Ferlinghetti’s “Coney Island” book: “A couple of Papish cats/is doing an Aztec two-step.”
Ferlinghetti was named the first-ever poet laureate of the city of San Francisco and his 100th birthday, March 24, 2019, was declared Lawrence Ferlinghetti Day in San Francisco.
In April of last year, the iconic San Francisco bookstore was on the brink of collapse after the coronavirus pandemic forced the store’s closure for months.
Elaine Katzenberger, the publisher and CEO of City Lights Booksellers & Publishers started a GoFundMe campaign to raise the $300,000 needed to keep the business afloat.
An overwhelming response from supporters brought donations of nearly $510,000 to help the business.MORE NEWS: San Francisco-Based Airbnb Reports Huge 4th-Quarter Loss
© Copyright 2021 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.