Lawrence Ferlinghetti Dead: Beat Poet Was 101

Legendary poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti has reportedly passed away at age 101, according to the Los Angeles Times. He reportedly died in his home in the Bay Area of San Francisco. In addition to being a celebrated poet in the San Francisco scene, he was also a publisher and bookseller who played a major role in the West Coast's literary culture.

Starr Sutherland, a friend of Ferlinghetti's who is working on a documentary about the City Lights bookstore, which the late poet owned, confirmed that the writer died on Monday evening at his home. Ferlinghetti's son, Lorenzo Ferlinghetti, told the Washington Post that his father died due to interstitial lung disease. The L.A. Times reported that Ferlinghetti and a partner opened the City Lights bookstore, the country's first all-paperback bookstore, in 1953. Around the time that they opened the legendary bookstore, poets such as Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and other East Coast beat poets were adding their own voices and work to the burgeoning San Francisco literary scene.

Shortly after City Lights opened, they started up their own literary press. One of the most significant pieces of work that they published was Ginsberg's controversial epic poem Howl, which features candid descriptions of illegal drug use and homosexuality, in 1956. Before Ferlinghetti published the poem, he knew that he could have faced legal troubles for the content. As a result, he showed a copy of Howl to the American Civil Liberties Union. In the book Against the Grain, Ferlinghetti told editor Robert Dana, "We knew exactly what we were doing. We figured we might very well get busted for it, but in those days it was important to take a stand on the question of censorship. This was the McCarthy era.”

According to Britannica, Ferlinghetti was put on trial in 1957 by Bay-area assistant district attorney Ralph McIntosh for distributing what was described as obscenity. A judge ultimately found that Howl had "redeeming social significance" and therefore could not be determined to be obscene. While he played a major role in the growing Beat literature movement, Ferlinghetti did not consider himself to be a Beat writer. Still, he published several works throughout his lifetime. He reportedly authored more than 30 books and is, perhaps, best known for his collection of poems A Coney Island of the Mind. Ferlinghetti, being a major advocate for poetry, became San Francisco's first poet laureate in 1998.