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Lawrence Ferlinghetti Dead at 101

The Beat poet and founder of City Lights bookstore and imprint inspired artists from Bob Dylan to Cyndi Lauper

Portrait of American poet and activist Lawrence Ferlinghetti as he poses outside the bookstore he co-founded, City Lights Booksellers, in the North Beach neighborhood, San Francisco, California, September 1977. (Photo by Janet Fries/Getty Images)

American poet and activist Lawrence Ferlinghetti outside the bookstore he co-founded, City Lights Booksellers, in the North Beach neighborhood, San Francisco, California, September 1977.

Janet Fries/Getty Images

Lawrence Ferlinghetti, the poet whose San Francisco–based City Lights bookstore and publishing house served as a springboard for the Beat generation, has died. His daughter, Julie Sasser, reported his cause of death as interstitial lung disease, according to The New York Times. He was 101.

The poet was known for stacking small fractured lines on top of each other in unique geometric shapes like Jenga towers, with each thought supporting the ones above it. His best-known collection of poems, 1958’s A Coney Island of the Mind, presented vivid images in the language of his day, describing Jesus Christ as “a kind of carpenter from some square-type place like Galilee … claiming he is hip” and Morris Graves’ mystic paintings of the Pacific Northwest as “a wild white nest in the true mad north of introspection.” Ever the experimenter, his late Sixties anthology, Starting From San Francisco, presented a mix of traditional and avant-garde forms.

In between releasing his own books through his City Lights imprint, which he cofounded with Peter D. Martin, he nourished a generation of poets. He issued Allen Ginsberg’s sprawling, controversial Howl and Other Poems in 1956, and in the years that followed put out books of poetry by William Carlos Williams, Gregory Corso, Jacques Prévert, Frank O’Hara, Pablo Picasso, Jack Kerouac, Pier Paolo Pasolini, and several others. Ferlinghetti’s still-operating City Lights bookstore, located in San Francisco’s North Beach neighborhood, was a frequent meeting place for the poets he published.

Ferlinghetti’s legacy resounded later in the works of musicians like Bob Dylan, who cited Coney Island in his Biograph box set, and the Band, who had the poet recite “Loud Prayer” at their final concert. The Byrds’ Roger McGuinn, Cyndi Lauper, and the Residents all drew inspiration from Ferlinghetti’s work.

In This Article: Poetry

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