Lawrence Ferlinghetti, the poet and political activist who helped launch the Beat movement, died from interstitial lung disease at his home in San Francisco on Monday, his daughter Julie Sasse told the Associated Press. He was 101.
Born in Yonkers, N.Y., in 1919, Ferlinghetti was best known for his first collection of poetry titled “A Coney Island of the Mind,” which was released in 1958 and is still one of the best-selling poetry books ever published.
Ferlinghetti was the main subject of the 2009 documentary “Ferlinghetti: A Rebirth of Wonder,” which was produced and directed by Christopher Felver. The film explored Ferlinghetti’s impact on numerous prolific poets and the entire Beat movement. He famously stated, “Don’t call me a Beat, I never was a Beat poet” in the doc. Read Variety‘s review here.
Ferlinghetti founded the independent literary landmark City Lights Booksellers & Publishers with Peter D. Martin in 1953, which was the nation’s first all-paperback bookstore. Through the City Lights publishing arm, books were released by famous beat artists such as Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs and most notably, Allen Ginsberg, whose landmark poem “Howl” led to a groundbreaking obscenity case in 1957 that paved the way for freedom of expression. Surviving the economic hardships of the COVID-19 pandemic, it continues to serve as a “literary meeting place” for all forms of bookworms. The store became such an essential experience of the San Francisco scene that the city’s board of supervisors designated it a historic landmark in 2001.
In addition to his bookselling and publishing, Ferlinghetti was a painter for over 60 years who had his work displayed in art galleries, a political activist who once vowed to refuse tax payments to protest the Vietnam War and a theater producer who put on plays in New York. He tirelessly worked on his poetry until the very end of his life.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, he will be buried in his family plot at the Bolinas Cemetery, beside his late ex-wife, Selby Kirden-Smith.