Sunday, July 27, 2008
When I joined City Lights in 1971, and started working with Lawrence, it was clear that it had been very much a center of protest, for people with revolutionary ideas and people who wanted to change society. - Nancy Peters
I love City Lights Bookstore. The first time I came to San Francisco, about four years ago, I remember wandering around Little Italy and stumbling upon this awesome bookstore. I bought a poster and got it home in one piece, but I mis-posted it on my classroom wall and it somehow got destroyed. Well, on this trip I replaced the poster and this time I will laminate so I do not have to deal with the same issue.
City Lights was started by Peter D. Martin, a sociology teacher who moved to San Francisco from New York. City Lights was named after a Charlie Chaplin movie, and it was also the name of the magazine Martin helped publish. Eventually Martin turned City Lights into the first American all-paperbook bookstore and he sold his share to Lawrence Ferlinghetti, the beat poet. The store served as a hang out spot for many counter-cultural artists and progressive thinkers. In 2001 it was named an historical landmark because of the intellectual and cultural service it rendered for both San Francisco and the rest of the country.
When you visit now, Allen Ginsberg's HOWL is on prominent display in the Poetry Room. Ferlinghetti heard Ginsberg read Howl in 1955 at the Six Gallery (which I tried to visit. It is no longer there, but I did walk along the block it stood on). Ferlinghetti offered to publish Howl, despite (I mean, probably because of) its controversial content and open discussion about drugs and homosexuality. City Lights was actually raided by the police for selling such a disgusting piece of writing and both Ferlinghetti and Ginsberg had to turn themselves in. Eventually the charges were dropped and the merit of the poem was recognized by teh court. This trial allowed other novels since (like D.H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterly's Lover to be published).
There is also a separate section of Beat authros and many resources are available there, many of which I purchased for my classroom. City Lights is also a publisher, started by Ferlinghetti, and at the bookstore you can peruse the titles that it has released. Gear is also for sale, and they seem to be making a pretty penny for that as well. It's all for the cause, so I'm not opposed =).