Lawrence Ferlinghetti (born March 24, 1919) is an American poet, painter, liberal activist, and the co-founder of City Lights Booksellers & Publishers. Author of poetry, translations, fiction, theatre, art criticism, and film narration, he is best known for A Coney Island of the Mind (New York: New Directions, 1958), a collection of poems that has been translated into nine languages, with sales of over 1 million copies.
Lawrence Ferlinghetti was born in Yonkers, New York on March 24, 1919. His mother, née Clemence Albertine Mendes-Monsanto was of French and Sephardic-Portuguese heritage. His father, Carlo Ferlinghetti, was born in Brescia, Italy in 1872. He immigrated to the United States in 1892, and worked as an auctioneer in Little Italy, NYC. At some unknown point, Carlo Ferlinghetti shortened the family name to "Ferling," and Lawrence wouldn't learn of his original name until 1942, when he had to provide a birth certificate to join the US Navy. Though he used "Ferling" for his earliest published work, Ferlinghetti reverted to the original Italian "Ferlinghetti" in 1955, when publishing his first book of poems, Pictures of the Gone World.
Ferlinghetti's father died six months before he was born, and his mother was committed to an asylum shortly after his birth. He was raised by his French aunt Emily, former wife of Ludovico Monsanto, an uncle of his mother from the Virgin Islands who taught Spanish at the U.S. Naval Academy. Emily took Ferlinghetti to Strasbourg, France, where they lived during his first five years, with French as his first language.