lawrence ferlinghetti at city lights

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When visiting San Francisco recently, I decided to visit City Lights bookstore just to see some history and to pay respects to cultural forebears. I had vague recollections of Ferlinghetti’s Coney Island of the Mind, the beats, the beatniks, the seed of hippiedom, and so on.

I spent the first part of the day wandering the waterfront and bicycling through the Presidio and over the Golden Gate Bridge. Then I walked over to the bookstore. When I arrived, I noticed a sign on the door, “Ferlinghetti tonight!” I thought to myself, “He’s still alive?”

I came back about an hour later and jammed into a packed room (see photo below) and stood for about 45 minutes until the man himself — 95 years old — entered, spoke for a while, and read a bit with some difficulty due to poor eyesight. One of his editors read the next selection and I then slipped out of the hot, closely packed room.

The year before I was born, Lawrence founded City Lights, and year after I was born he began publishing poetry by Denise Levertov, William Carlos Williams, Allen Ginsburg, and many more. He went on to publish all kinds of books. He was a featured speaker at the 1967 Human Be-In, the event which really pulled the media into examining the hippie phenomenon. He was a world traveller. He’s been a painter, poet, a political activist, and more.

Those are few tiny points in a long career. This year he published a book a travel journals, Writing Across the Landscape, and the pipsqueak that is me happened to be there for the release. That was October 20.

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I also visited the Beat Museum, situated in another nearby bookstore. Yes, it’s filled with beat memorabilia, with a particular focus on Kerouac. A couple photos:

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