Lawrence Ferlinghetti, the poet, publisher, and political iconoclast who inspired and nurtured generations of San Francisco artists and writers from his famed City Lights bookstore, died Monday at his San Francisco home. He was 101.
The cause was interstitial lung disease, his daughter, Julie Sasser, said.
The spiritual godfather of the Beat movement, Mr. Ferlinghetti, made his home in the humble independent book haven now formally known as City Lights Booksellers & Publishers. City Lights, a self-proclaimed & # 39; literary hangout & # 39; founded in 1953 and located on the edge of the sometimes chic, sometimes seedy North Beach neighborhood, quickly became as much a part of the San Francisco scene as the Golden Gate Bridge of Fisherman & # 39; s Wharf. (The city's board of supervisors designated it a historic landmark in 2001.)
Although older and not a practitioner of their freewheeling personal style, Mr. Ferlinghetti befriended, published, and defended many of the most important Beat poets, including Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, and Michael McClure. His connection to their work was illustrated – and cemented – in 1956 with his publication of Ginsberg's most famous poem, the bawdy and revolutionary. "Howl," an act that later led to his arrest on charges of 'willful and ridiculous' printing of & # 39; indecent writings & # 39 ;.
In a major First Amendment decision, Mr Ferlinghetti was acquitted, and & # 39; Howl & # 39; became one of the most famous poems of the 20th century. (The lawsuit was the focus of the 2010 movie "Howl," which starred James Franco Ginsberg and Andrew Rogers as Mr. Ferlinghetti.)
In addition to being a champion of the Beats, Mr. Ferlinghetti himself was also a prolific writer with broad talents and interests whose work avoided easy definition, mixing disarming simplicity, sharp wit and social awareness.
"Every great poem fulfills a desire and brings life back together," he wrote a "non-college" after receiving the Poetry Society of America & # 39; s Frost Medal in 2003. A poem, he added, "should go into ecstasy somewhere between speech and song."
Critics and fellow poets never agreed whether Mr. Ferlinghetti should be considered a Beat poet. He didn't think so himself.
“In some ways, what I really did was mind the store,” he said told The Guardian in 2006. “When I arrived in San Francisco in 1951, I wore a beret. I was actually the last of the Bohemians rather than the first of the Beats. "
A full obituary will be published soon.
Richard Severo, Peter Keepnews and Alex Traub contributed reporting.