Lawrence Ferlinghetti died of interstitial lung disease at his home in San Francisco, according to his children

By Jason Duaine Hahn
February 23, 2021 06:40 PM
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Janet Fries/Getty Images
| Credit: Janet Fries/Getty Images

Lawrence Ferlinghetti, the famed poet who was placed on trial in the 1950s for publishing Allen Ginsberg's Howl, died Monday evening at age 101.

City Lights Booksellers, the bookstore Ferlinghetti founded in 1953, announced his death in a post on social media on Tuesday. In it, the store called Ferlinghetti their "poet and hero," and included a black and white picture of the bookseller smiling from a window of the building.

In a separate statement published on their website, City Lights reflected on Ferlinghetti's legacy, recalling when he opened the store with a partner "to make diverse and inexpensive quality books widely available."

Ferlinghetti — a World War II Navy veteran — also authored one of the most celebrated poetry books in American history, A Coney Island of the Mind, in 1958. He continued writing poetry up to last year.

According to the Washington Post and New York Times, Ferlinghetti's children said he died of interstitial lung disease.

"For over sixty years, those of us who have worked with him at City Lights have been inspired by his knowledge and love of literature, his courage in defense of the right to freedom of expression, and his vital role as an American cultural ambassador," City Lights said on their website. "His curiosity was unbounded and his enthusiasm was infectious, and we will miss him greatly."

Ferlinghetti — who was born in Yonkers, New York, in 1919 — earned national recognition when he published Ginsberg's Howl in 1956. The groundbreaking poem was one of the defining works of the Beat poets, a group of artists who experimented with hallucinogenic drugs, sexual freedom and Eastern religion, according to Poetry Foundation.

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Ferlinghetti told The Guardian in 2006 he did not think of himself as a member of the Beats, though many considered him to be.

"In some ways what I really did was mind the store," Ferlinghetti told the outlet. "When I arrived in San Francisco in 1951 I was wearing a beret. If anything I was the last of the bohemians rather than the first of the Beats."

After publishing Howl, Ferlinghetti was placed on trial on obscenity charges, which ultimately brought more attention to the work of the Beat poets, the Post reported.

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City Lights said they plan to continue Ferlinghetti's legacy for years to come.

"We intend to build on Ferlinghetti's vision and honor his memory by sustaining City Lights into the future as a center for open intellectual inquiry and commitment to literary culture and progressive politics," their statement said. "Though we mourn his passing, we celebrate his many contributions and give thanks for all the years we were able to work by his side."