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Lawrence Ferlinghetti Letter

 Collection — Box: VMF 4, Folder: 17
Identifier: MS-VMF-vmf050

Typed letter signed from Ferlinghetti to Edward Dahlberg concerning the availability of Dahlberg's book, Bottom Dogs, published by City Lights, and which Ferlinghetti praises. Signed in ink with self-caricature. 1 page.


  • 1971 June 5


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1.00 items

1 folders

Biographical Information

Lawrence Ferlinghetti (March 24, 1919-February 22, 2021) is an American poet, painter, liberal activist, and the co-founder of City Lights Booksellers and Publishers. Author of poetry, translations, fiction, theatre, art criticism, and film narration, he is best known for A Coney Island of the Mind (1958), a collection of poems that has been translated into nine languages, with sales of over one million copies.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti was born in Yonkers, New York. He attended the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, where he earned a B.A. in journalism in 1941. After World War II, the G.I. Bill then enabled him to enroll in the Columbia University graduate school. He earned a master’s degree in English literature in 1947 with a thesis on John Ruskin and the British painter J. M. W. Turner. From Columbia, he went to Paris to continue his studies, and lived in the city between 1947 and 1951, earning a Doctorat de l’Université de Paris, with a “mention très honorable.”

After marrying Selden Kirby-Smith in 1951 in Duval County, Florida, he settled in San Francisco in 1953, where he taught French in an adult education program, painted, and wrote art criticism. His first translations, of poems by the French surrealist Jacques Prévert, were published by Peter D. Martin in his popular culture magazine City Lights.

In 1953, Ferlinghetti and Martin founded City Lights Bookstore, the first all-paperbound bookshop in the country. Two years later, after the departure of Martin, he launched the publishing wing of City Lights with his own first book of poems, Pictures of the Gone World, the first number in the Pocket Poets Series.  Although City Lights Publishers is best known for its publication of Beat Generation writers, Ferlinghetti never intended to publish the Beats exclusively, and the press has always maintained a strong international list. City Lights Publishers also expanded its list from poetry to include prose, including novels, biography, memoirs, essays and cultural studies.

The fourth number in the Pocket Poets Series was Allen Ginsberg’s Howl.  Seized in 1956 by the San Francisco police, Ferlinghetti and Shig Murao, the bookstore manager who had sold the book to the police, were arrested on obscenity charges. Ferlinghetti stood trial and was acquitted in October 1957 after Howl was found not obscene.  The landmark First Amendment case established a key legal precedent for the publication of other controversial literary work with redeeming social importance.

Although in style and theme Ferlinghetti’s own writing is very unlike that of the original New York Beat circle, he had important associations with the Beat writers, who made City Lights Bookstore their headquarters when they were in San Francisco. He has often claimed that he was not a Beat, but a bohemian of an earlier generation.  Kerouac wrote Ferlinghetti into the character “Lorenzo Monsanto” in his autobiographical novel Big Sur (1962).  Over the years Ferlinghetti published work by many of the Beats, including Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Gregory Corso, William S. Burroughs, Diane diPrima, Michael McClure, Philip Lamantia, Bob Kaufman, and Gary Snyder.

Method of Acquisition

Accession number 1596. Purchased from Margaret DuPriest, October 28, 1983

Processing Information

Processed October 1983

Lawrence Ferlinghetti Letter
Description rules
Language of description

Revision Statements

  • 2021 February 24: Resource record updated in ArchiveSpace by Sarah Schnuriger.

Collecting Area Details

Part of the Manuscripts Collecting Area

Joel Minor
Olin Library, 1 Brookings Drive
MSC 1061-141-B
St. Louis MO 63130 US
(314) 935-5495