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Lawrence Ferlinghetti, poet and publisher, dies at 101

Lawrence Ferlinghetti, poet and publisher, dies at 101
Lawrence Ferlinghetti, the poet, publisher and owner of San Francisco's City Lights book store who helped to foster the Beat movement, died at the age of 101, his family said. Photo by Cmichel67/Wikimedia Commons 

Feb. 23 (UPI) -- Lawrence Ferlinghetti, poet, publisher and owner of San Francisco's City Lights book store, died on Monday, his family said. He was 101 years old.

Ferlinghetti's daughter, Julie Sasser, and son, Lorenzo Ferlinghetti, said the cause of death was interstitial lung disease, The New York Times and The Washington Post reported.

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In addition to running a publishing house that fostered the Beat Generation, Ferlinghetti was thrust into the national spotlight in a 1950s trial on obscenity charges for Allen Ginsberg's poem "Howl."

Born in Yonkers, N.Y., on March 24, 1919, Ferlinghetti's father died of a heart attack before he was born and his mother was institutionalized when he was a toddler leaving him to spend his youth split among living with an uncle in Manhattan, an aunt in France and an orphanage in Chappaqua, N.Y.

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He graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a degree in journalism in 1941 and served in the Navy during World War II where his experience in Nagasaki after the deployment of an Allied atomic bomb spurred a lifelong opposition to war.

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"You'd see hands sticking up out of the mud," he wrote. "Hair sticking out of the road -- a quagmire -- people don't realize how total the destruction was."

After the war, he earned a master's degree from Columbia University and moved to Paris where he met his wife, Selden Kirby-Smith, and arrived in San Francisco in 1951 before opening City Lights two years later.

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The store stayed open late into the night and throughout its history was known for stocking gay and lesbian publications.

Ferlinghetti launched the publishing arm of City Lights in 1955 as his "Pictures of the Gone World" was the first volume of its Pocket Poet series.

A year later, he published Ginsberg's poem "Howl," which faced criticism for its profanity and language about gay sex and following its second printing in 1957, Ferlinghetti and City Lights manager Shigeyoshi Murao were arrested on obscenity charges.

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Municipal Court Judge Clayton W. Horn acquitted Ferlinghetti, ruling that the poem had "redeeming social importance and could not be judged as obscene."

As an author, he also drew controversy for his 1958 collection "A Coney Island of the Mind," which New York congressman Steve B. Derouinian accused of being blasphemous.

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Ferlinghetti was named the first poet laureate of San Francisco and in 2005 the National Book Foundation cited his "tireless work on behalf of poets and the entire literary community for over 50 years."

He is survived by his two children and three grandchildren.

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