SAN FRANCISCO — Lawrence Ferlinghetti, poet and publisher, passed away at age 101 on Monday, February 22 at his San Francisco home from interstitial lung disease, his daughter Julie Sasser told The New York Times.
City Lights Booksellers and Publishers, which Ferlinghetti co-founded in the 1950s, released a statement on its website regarding his death, calling Ferlinghetti “instrumental in democratizing American literature” with the “first all-paperback bookstore” and “jumpstarting a movement to make diverse and inexpensive quality books widely available.”
In addition, the company announced it will “build on Ferlinghetti’s vision and honor his memory by sustaining City Lights” as a “center for open intellectual inquiry and commitment to literary culture and progressive politics.”
Lawrence Ferlinghetti was born on March 24, 1919 as Lawrence Monsanto Ferling in Bronxville, New York. His father died prior to his birth and his mother asked his aunt to take care of him, eventually moving to France. Ferlinghetti moved back to the United States and was briefly placed in an orphanage before being in the care of foster parents.
Ferlinghetti graduated with a degree in journalism from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill in 1941 (a university he chose because it was novelist Thomas Wolfe’s alma mater). After graduation, he joined the United States Navy during World War II.
He graduated with a Master’s degree in English Literature from Columbia University in 1947 and received his Ph.D. from Paris-Sorbonne University three years later. He then moved to San Francisco.
Ferlinghetti is the author of more than two dozen books, including A Coney Island of the Mind and A Far Rockaway of the Heart, which were published in 1958 and 1997, respectively.
In 1951, Ferlinghetti married Selden Kirby-Smith and have two children, a daughter named Julie and a son named Lorenzo. Their marriage ended 25 years later in 1976.
Officers arrested Ferlinghetti in the late 1950s for publishing and selling obscene and lewd material in “Howl” by Allen Ginsberg. The judge ultimately ruled in his favor due to First Amendment rights, dropping the charges.
In 1994, Ferlinghetti had a street named after him, and in August 1998, Ferlinghetti was named SF’s Poet Laureate. He received other awards and recognitions, including the American Civil Liberties Union’s Earl Warren Civil Liberties Award and the National Book Critics Circle Ivan Sandrof Award for Contribution to American Arts and Letters.
Ferlinghetti’s last published book is named Little Boy, which was published in 2019.
In March 2019, SF Mayor London Breed declared March 24, 1919 (the author’s 100th birthday) as “Lawrence Ferlinghetti Day.”
The New York Times reported that Ferlinghetti is survived by his children and grandchildren.