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A child of immigrant parents, Ferlinghetti persevered through the terrible loss of his mother and father at an early age. Intermittently orphaned and raised by an aunt and family friends, he attended a number of secondary schools on his way to a journalism degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, he served as a naval officer during World War II where he participated in the Normandy invasion and saw the devastation of the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki. Those experiences undoubtedly influenced the man he became and his artistic reflections upon them have influenced generations to follow.
After the war, he returned to his studies earning graduate degrees from Columbia University and the Sorbonne. In 1951 he came to San Francisco—the place where he would start a literary revolution. Along with partner Peter Martin, he founded the City Lights Bookstore in 1953 and shortly thereafter City Lights Press, institutions that—to borrow his words—"paint light on the walls of life."
At City Lights, Ferlinghetti convened some of the greatest literary minds of the beat generation. Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, Diane di Prima and a host of others embraced his notion of literature that was both relevant and accessible to the masses. Their work questioned the assumptions of established society and boldly intertwined art and politics.
He has written more than 35 books of poetry which urged poets to be engaged in the political and cultural life of the country. As he writes in “Populist Manifesto”. 36th book of poetry, called “time of Useful Consciousness”. Hailed by the New York Times as his best work, it is a call for action while there is still time.
Ferlinghetti has lived a life of conviction and courage and he ardently defended artists who challenged the world around them. He published the writing of Charles Bukoski, Howard Zinn, Neal Cassady and many other counterculture thought leaders at a time when their contributions were considered to be disruptive. Indeed, Ferlinghetti faced criminal charges for publishing and selling Allen Ginsberg's Howl. He was acquitted in 1957, and the landscape of American literature changed forever.
In recognition of his tremendous contributions to literature and art and to an extraordinary life dedicated to fostering a renaissance of wonder, San Francisco State University confer upon Lawrence Ferlinghetti the honorary degree, Doctor of Fine Arts. He has been the recipient of numerous prizes, including the Los Angeles Times’ Robert Kirsch Award, the BABRA Award for Lifetime Achievement, the National Book Critics Circle Ivan Sandrof Award for Contribution to American Arts and Letters, and the American Civil Liberties Union’s Earl Warren Award. He was awarded the Key to the City of Florence, Italy, for his work as an artist He received the highest honor awarded by the President of Italy, with a title of Cavaliere.
May Ferlinghetti’s voice and courage continue to inspire others to follow in his footsteps. As the song states “The “Beat” goes on. Ferlinghetti, recently passed at age 101.
Fielding Graduate University article Valerie Malhotra Bentz, Examiner, Washington Post, Literary Hub, Corinne Segal and San Francisco State University
Recipe for Happiness in Khabarovsk or Anyplace
"One grand boulevard with trees
with one grand café in sun
with strong black coffee in very small cups
One not necessarily very beautiful
man or woman who loves you
One fine day"
By Lawrence Ferlinghetti