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I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by
madness, starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at
dawn looking for an angry fix,
angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient
heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the
machinery of night . . .
Allen Ginsberg, “Howl”

Beat poetry evolved during the 1940s in both New York City and on the west coast, although San Francisco became the heart of the movement in the early 1950s. The end of World War II left poets like Allen Ginsberg, Gary Snyder, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Gregory Corso questioning mainstream politics and culture. These poets would become known as the Beat generation, a group of writers interested in changing consciousness and defying conventional writing. The Beats were also closely intertwined with poets of the San Francisco Renaissance movement, such as Kenneth Rexroth and Robert Duncan.

The battle against social conformity and literary tradition was central to the work of the Beats. Among this group of poets, hallucinogenic drugs were used to achieve higher consciousness, as was meditation and Eastern religion. Buddhism especially was important to many of the Beat poets; Snyder and Ginsberg both intensely studied this religion and it figured into much of their work.

Ginsberg’s first book, Howl and Other Poems, is often considered representative of the Beat poets. In 1956 Ferlinghetti’s press City Lights published Howl and Ferlinghetti was brought to trial the next year on charges of obscenity. In a hugely publicized case, the judge ruled thatHowl was not obscene and brought national attention to Ginsberg and the Beat poets.

Besides publishing the Pocket Poets Series, Ferlinghetti also founded the legendary San Francisco bookstore City Lights. Still in operation today, City Lights is an important landmark of Beat generation history. Several of the surrounding streets have been renamed after Beat poets as well, commemorating their important contribution to the cultural landscape of San Francisco.

Other Beat poets included Diane di Prima, Neal Cassady, Anne Waldman, and Michael McClure. Although William S. Burroughs and Jack Kerouac are often best remembered for works of fiction such as Naked Lunch and On the Road, respectively, they also wrote poetry and were very much part of the Beats as well; Kerouac is said to have coined the term “Beat generation,” describing the down-and-out status of himself and his peers during the post-war years.





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A Brief Biography of
Lawrence Ferlinghetti

A prominent voice of the wide-open poetry movement that began in the 1950s, Lawrence Ferlinghetti has written poetry, translation, fiction, theater, art criticism, film narration, and essays. Often concerned with politics and social issues, Ferlinghetti’s poetry countered the literary elite’s definition of art and the artist’s role in the world. Though imbued with the commonplace, his poetry cannot be simply described as polemic or personal protest, for it stands on his craftsmanship, thematics, and grounding in tradition.

Ferlinghetti was born in Yonkers in 1919, son of Carlo Ferlinghetti who was from the province of Brescia and Clemence Albertine Mendes-Monsanto. Following his undergraduate years at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, he served in the U.S. Navy in World War II as a ship’s commander. He received a Master’s degree from Columbia University in 1947 and a Doctorate de l’Université de Paris (Sorbonne) in 1950. From 1951 to 1953, when he settled in San Francisco, he taught French in an adult education program, painted, and wrote art criticism. In 1953, with Peter D. Martin, he founded City Lights Bookstore, the first all-paperbound bookshop in the country, and by 1955 he had launched the City Lights publishing house.

The bookstore has served for half a century as a meeting place for writers, artists, and intellectuals. City Lights Publishers began with the Pocket Poets Series, through which Ferlinghetti aimed to create an international, dissident ferment. His publication of Allen Ginsberg’s Howl & Other Poems in 1956 led to his arrest on obscenity charges, and the trial that followed drew national attention to the San Francisco Renaissance and Beat movement writers. (He was overwhelmingly supported by prestigious literary and academic figures, and was acquitted.) This landmark First Amendment case established a legal precedent for the publication of controversial work with redeeming social importance.

Ferlinghetti’s paintings have been shown at various galleries around the world, from the Butler Museum of American Painting to Il Palazzo delle Esposizioni in Rome. He has been associated with the international Fluxus movement through the Archivio Francesco Conz in Verona. He has toured Italy, giving poetry readings in Roma, Napoli, Bologna, Firenze, Milano, Verona, Brescia, Cagliari, Torino, Venezia, and Sicilia. He won the Premio Taormino in 1973, and since then has been awarded the Premio Camaiore, the Premio Flaiano, the Premio Cavour. among others. He is published in Italy by Oscar Mondadori, City Lights Italia, and Minimum Fax. He was instrumental in arranging extensive poetry tours in Italy produced by City Lights Italia in Firenze. He has translated from the Italian Pier Paolo Pasolin’s Poemi Romani, which is published by City Lights Books. In San Francisco, his work can regularly be seen at the George Krevsky Gallery at 77 Geary Street.

Ferlinghetti’s A Coney Island of the Mind continues to be the most popular poetry book in the U.S. It has been translated into nine languages, and there are nearly 1,000,000 copies in print. The author of poetry, plays, fiction, art criticism, and essays, he has a dozen books currently in print in the U.S., and his work has been translated in many countries and in many languages. His most recent books are A Far Rockaway of the Heart (1997), How to Paint Sunlight (2001), and Americus Book I (2004) published by New Directions.

He has been the recipient of numerous prizes, including the Los Angeles Times’ Robert Kirsch Award, the BABRA Award for Lifetime Achievement, the National Book Critics Circle Ivan Sandrof Award for Contribution to American Arts and Letters, the American Civil Liberties Union’s Earl Warren Civil Liberties Award. Ferlinghetti was named San Francisco’s Poet Laureate in August 1998, and he used his post as a bully-pulpit from which he articulated the seldom-heard “voice of the people.” In 2003 he was awarded the Robert Frost Memorial Medal, the Author’s Guild Lifetime Achievement Award, and he was elected to the prestigious American Academy of Arts and Letters.



Freedom of speech is always under attack by Fascist mentality, which exists in all parts of the world, unfortunately.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Freedom, Speech, Exists

Constantly risking absurdity and death whenever he performs above the heads of his audience, the poet, like an acrobat, climbs on rhyme to a high wire of his own making.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Death, Making, High

We have to raise the consciousness; the only way poets can change the world is to raise the consciousness of the general populace.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti

QChange, General, Poets

Don’t patronize the chain bookstores. Every time I see some author scheduled to read and sign his books at a chain bookstore, I feel like telling him he’s stabbing the independent bookstores in the back.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti quotes

Time, Him, Read

Anyone who saw Nagasaki would suddenly realize that they’d been kept in the dark by the United States government as to what atomic bombs can do.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Government, Dark, Realize

Everything the Beats stood for was the opposite of the dominant culture today.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Read more at http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/l/lawrence_ferlinghetti.html#TXTmAeYWi67tHCLb.99

A literary group, also known as the Beats or the Beat generation


beatgenerationShown clockwise from left: Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Peter Orlovsky, Lafcadio Orlovsky, and Gregory Corso in 1956. The Beat movement was characterized by a rejection of the materialism, militarism, consumerism, and conformity of the 1950s, in favor of individual freedom and spontaneity.

Beat Generation

Shown clockwise from left: Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Peter Orlovsky, Lafcadio Orlovsky, and Gregory Corso in 1956. The Beat movement was characterized by a rejection of the materialism, militarism, consumerism, and conformity of the 1950s, in favor of individual freedom and spontaneity.


Literary group, also known as the Beats or the Beat generation, that flourished from the mid-1950s until the early 1960s. Its most prominent members were the novelists John Clellon Holmes (1926-88) and Jack Kerouac (1922-69), and the poets Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti (b. 1919), Philip Whalen (b. 1923), Gary Snyder (b. 1930), and Gregory Corso (1930-2001). William Burroughs (1914-97) was loosely associated with the group, which was mainly located in San Francisco and in Greenwich Village, New York City. Much Beat poetry was published by Ferlinghetti’s “City Lights” imprint, and his “City Lights” bookstore in San Francisco was an important meeting-place for the group. Gregory Stephenson has suggested that the Beat movement had two distinct phases: the “underground,” from 1944 to 1956, and the public, 1956-62.
Holmes introduced the term “Beat generation” in a 1952 essay on his novel GO (1952), and later Kerouac suggested that “Beat” meant being socially marginalized and exhausted (“beaten down”) and blessed (“beatific”). There are also musical connotations to the name as many members were jazz enthusiasts. Socially the Beats, many of whom were homosexual or bisexual, extolled individual freedom and attacked what they saw as the materialism, militarism, consumerism, and conformity of the 1950s; “America, where everyone is always doing what they ought,” as Kerouac put it in one of Beat’s defining works, the novel ON THE ROAD (1957). To this end they affected nonconformist styles of dress and speech and, avowedly antimaterialist, they cultivated mystical experiences by the use of drugs or by meditation — many members developed an interest in forms of mysticism and in Zen Buddhism. The Beats were politically radical, and to some degree their anti-authoritarian attitudes were taken up by activists in the 1960s. In their writing they encouraged direct and frank communication and, rejecting the formalist, impersonal writing encouraged by the New Criticism, they cultivated styles that gave the impression of spontaneity and improvisation. Much Beat poetry was performance orientated (often read in public with jazz accompaniment). Although they have been much parodied and satirized, the Beats brought fresh energies to American writing and their influence has been significant.

Further Reading:
THIS IS THE BEAT GENERATION (1999) by James Campbell; BEAT DOWN TO YOUR SOUL (2001), edited by Ann Charters; THE BEAT GENERATION WRITERS (1996), edited by A. Robert Lee; A DIFFERENT BEAT: WRITINGS BY WOMEN OF THE BEAT GENERATION (1997), edited by Richard Peabody, and THE DAYBREAK BOYS (1990) by Gregory Stephenson.

From THE ESSENTIAL GLOSSARY: AMERICAN LITERATURE by Stephen Matterson. © 2003 Stephen Matterson. Reprinted by permission of the author.

Harlem Renaissance


Langston Hughes was a prominent member of the Harlem Renaissance — a movement during the 1920s of black writers and intellectuals who engaged in intense debate regarding the place of the African American in American life, and on the role and identity of the African-American artist.  Pictured here are Langston Hughes [far left] with [left to right:] Charles S. Johnson, E. Franklin Frazier, Rudolph Fisher and Hubert T. Delaney, on a Harlem rooftop on the occasion of a party in Hughes’ honor, 1924.
New York Public Library

The first major movement of African-American literature, beginning around 1923 and flourishing until the depression, but providing a stimulus that lasted through the 1940s.

The renaissance mainly involved a group of writers and intellectuals associated (often loosely) with Harlem, the district of Manhattan that, during the migration of African Americans from the rural South, became the major center for urbanized blacks. Harlem was described by Alain Locke (1886-1954) as “not merely the largest Negro community in the world, but the first concentration in history of so many diverse elements of Negro life.” The renaissance was associated with the New Negro Movement, so called because of the anthology THE NEW NEGRO (1925) edited by Locke, whose introductory essay “The New Negro” is the closest to a manifesto or statement of ideals that the Harlem Renaissance has. In it he writes of the Negro who is no longer apologetic for blackness but who takes a new pride in a racial identity and heritage, of the “renewed self-respect and self-dependence” felt in the contemporary black community, which is “about to enter a new phase.”

Elsewhere Locke urged writers to examine the meaning of an African past and to utilize this in their art. This urging coincided with a growing interest among whites at the time in primitivism, evident for example in Eugene O’Neill’s plays “The Emperor Jones” (1920) and “All God’s Chillun Got Wings” (1924). The Harlem Renaissance was partly fostered by the existence of this interest, and by the concurrent development of American modernism and the readiness to accept experimentation and to expand the breadth of artistic expression. The renaissance was greatly assisted by several whites, especially Carl Van Vechten (1880-1964), whose enthusiasm for African-American culture was reflected in his popular 1926 novel NIGGER HEAVEN. Locke had explicitly called for social and artistic interracial cooperation in “The New Negro,” commenting that, “The fiction is that the life of the races is separate, and increasingly so. The fact is that they have touched too closely at the unfavorable and too lightly at the favorable levels.”

One characteristic of the Harlem Renaissance was a move toward so-called “high art” in black writing, rather than the use of folk idioms, comic writing, and vernacular that had often been considered the special realm of African-American writing up to that time. In some respects this shift mirrors the change from rural to urban life for many blacks in this period. However, several of the Harlem writers made powerful use of folk idioms such as the blues, particularly Langston Hughes (1902-67). The Harlem writers also engaged in an intense debate regarding the place of the African American in American life, and on the role and identity of the African-American artist. In this sense the Harlem Renaissance is by no means a monolithic movement with a single purpose. For example, the artistic differences between Hughes and the poet Countee Cullen (1903-46) are instructive. Cullen believed that an African-American poet should be free to write in mainstream established traditions, and need not racialize poetry. “I want to be a poet, not a Negro poet,” he said, and wrote in forms such as the sonnet and became a translator of Euripides. Hughes, on the other hand, saw this attitude as a betrayal of racial identity, an aping of white European-ness, and sought in his work to accept and explore his blackness using forms and idioms that he associated with it. Both are major poets but their differences point to the relative breadth of the movement and to the development of quite different kinds of African-American writing in the Harlem Renaissance.

Prominent Harlem Renaissance writers include James Weldon Johnson (1871-1938), Jessie Redmon Fauset (1882-1961), the Jamaican-born Claude McKay (1889-1948), Zora Neale Hurston, Nella Larsen (1893-1964), Jean Toomer (1894-1967), Arna Bontemps (1902-73), Gwendolyn Bennett (1902-81), and Helene Johnson (1907-95). In addition to the NEW NEGRO anthology, key works produced during the period of the renaissance or during its influence include Toomer’s multigeneric CANE (1923), Hughes’ WEARY’S BLUES (1926), Larsen’s QUICKSAND (1928) and PASSING (1929), and Hurston’s THEIR EYES WERE WATCHING GOD (1937).

Further Reading:
COLOR, SEX AND POETRY: THREE WOMEN WRITERS OF THE HARLEM RENAISSANCE (1987) by Gloria Hull; THE HARLEM RENAISSANCE IN BLACK AND WHITE (1995) by George Hutchinson; WHEN HARLEM WAS IN VOGUE (1989) by David Levering Lewis, and WOMEN OF THE HARLEM RENAISSANCE (1995) by Cheryl A. Wall. HARLEM RENAISSANCE: A HISTORICAL DICTIONARY FOR THE ERA (1984), edited by Bruce Kellner, is a valuable resource.

From THE ESSENTIAL GLOSSARY: AMERICAN LITERATURE by Stephen Matterson. © 2003 Stephen Matterson. Reprinted by permission of the author.