Lawrence Ferlinghetti (born March 24, 1919) is a poet who is best known as the co-owner of the City Lights Bookstore and publishing house, which published early literary works of the Beat Generation, including Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg.
Ferlinghetti was born of an Italian-Portuguese-Sephardic immigrant family in Yonkers, New York, he attended the Mount Hermon School and earned the rank of Eagle Scout. He then attended University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and served as an officer in the United States Navy during World War II. After the war, he got a master's degree from Columbia University and a doctorate from the Sorbonne. While studying in Paris, he met Kenneth Rexroth, who later persuaded him to go to San Francisco to experience the growing literary scene there. Between 1951 and 1953 he taught French, wrote literary criticism, and painted.
In 1953, Ferlinghetti and Peter D. Martin started a bookshop, which they named City Lights after a film magazine Martin had started. Two years later, after Martin left for New York, Ferlinghetti started the publishing house, specialising in poetry. The most famous publication was Howl, the poem by Allen Ginsberg, which was initially impounded by the authorities, and subject of a groundbreaking legal case.
Ferlinghetti had a retreat in a fairly wild area of Coastal California, Big Sur. He always enjoyed nature, and he espoused a liberal spirituality imbued with kindness. These aspects of his character inclined him toward friendships with American practitioners of Buddhism, including Ginsberg and Gary Snyder. Politically, he has described himself as an anarchist at heart (a community-oriented, ethical anarchist) who has come to accept that common humanity is not yet ready to live well within anarchism; consequently, he has espoused the sort of social democracy modelled in Scandinavian countries.
Ferlinghetti's best-known collection of poetry is A Coney Island of the Mind, which has been translated into nine languages. In 1998 he was named Poet Laureate of San Francisco. In addition to writing and publishing poetry and running the bookstore, Ferlinghetti continues to paint, and his work has been exhibited in galleries and museums.
Ferlinghetti's poetry often reflects his views about politics and social issues of the time, and he challenges the current thoughts about an artist's role in the world.
The Italian band Timoria dedicated the song Ferlinghetti Blues (from the album El Topo Grand Hotel) to the poet, where Ferlinghetti himself speaks one of his poems.
Recordings of Ferlinghetti reading want ads, as featured on radio station KPFA in 1957, were recorded by Henry Jacobs and are featured on the Meat Beat Manifesto album At the Center, mistakenly credited to Kenneth Rexroth.