by Lawrence Ferlinghetti
Lawrence Ferlinghetti was born in Yonkers, New York, in 1919. He received an AB degree in journalism from the University of North Carolina, and an MA from Columbia University, where he wrote a thesis on the influence of John Ruskin’s writing on J.M.W. Turner.
After Navy service in World War II, he worked in the mail room at Time Magazine for a while, then lived in Paris (1947–1951), where he received a Doctorat de l’Universite from the Sorbonne in 1949. It was in France that Ferlinghetti began painting. On his return to the United States he settled in San Francisco, where he and Peter D. Martin founded the first all paperbound bookstore in the country, City Lights Books. Under its imprint, Ferlinghetti began the Pocket Poets Series which included work by William Carlos Williams, Allen Ginsberg, Kenneth Patchen, Kenneth Rexroth, and Antonin Artaud.
Ferlinghetti’s second books of poems, A Coney Island of the Mind (New Directions, 1958) is one of the best selling poetry books of our time. A Far Rockaway of the Heart (ND, 1997) won a silver medal, in the category of Poetry, in the California Book Awards, sponsored by The Commonwealth Club of California.
On August 11, 1998, Ferlinghetti was named San Francisco’s first poet laureate. He received The Before Columbus Foundation “Lifetime Achievement Award” for the twentieth annual American Book Awards for 1999. In 2001 he was one of two American poets (the other being John Ashbery) chosen to participate in the second celebration of UNESCO’s World Poetry Day in Delphi, Greece, where he along with his international confreres poetically addressed the Oracle. He has also been writing a weeky column, “Poetry as News,” for the San Francisco Chronicle Book Review.
In December 2006, Ferlinghetti was named a Commandeur in the French Order of Arts and Letters. Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s reputation within the literary world grows out of his commitment to literature and to the literary artists who have pushed the edges of the literary envelope shaping the last half of this century.
He is a man of many hats, and he brings to each of his roles an approach that challenges tradition. It is his uncharacteristic personality that allows him to balance comfortably activities as diverse as those of poet, novelist, playwright, publisher, critic, social activist, and visual artist.