Weekly Photo Challenge: The World Through Your Eyes – City Lights Bookstore 60th Anniversary

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Good Evening:

City Lights Bookstore Before the Celebration, 23 June 2013

City Lights Bookstore Before the Celebration, 23 June 2013

Tiny little place. Used to be tinier.

City Lights Bookstore During the Celebration, 23 June 2013 (Vesuvio Bar in Yellow, Jack Kerouac Alley in Between)

City Lights Bookstore During Celebration in Jack Kerouac Alley, 23 June 2013 (Vesuvio Bar in Yellow)

Big honking impact upon the literary world. As big as ever.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s little side business turned 60 years old on Sunday. He had settled in San Francisco during the early 50’s (I don’t know if he passed through town after he visited Nagasaki and returned to the US during Operation Magic Carpet). I suppose (speculating again) that he found the place amicable to his newly radicalized spirit. Note that the signs in the second story window read “Open Door,” “Open Books,” “Open Mind,” “Open Heart,” “Disarm” and “Turn Left.” He hasn’t changed at all.

Not too many people know that City Lights, the first all-paperbook bookstore in America, was originally the idea of one Peter D. Martin. Ferlinghetti became co-owner in 1953 with a $500 investment, and bought out Martin for $1,000 a few years later. In 1955, he started the publishing company whose fourth book, Howl and Other Poems, led to sundry arrests and a huge upset victory in court when Judge Clayton Horn found both Howl and Ferlinghetti not guilty of obscenity.

The 60th celebration featured live music in Jack Kerouac Alley, free broadsides of poems by Ferlinghetti and Diane di Prima, fifty per cent off on City Lights books (I purchased A Coney Island of the Mind and San Francisco Poems–it just felt right), and a rare chance to see the 94-year-old poet, publisher and activist. Here are some pictures of the event. Because the bookstore itself is mostly dim inside, even with those huge front windows, photography is not easy in there, I had to edit everything one way or the other.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti on the Right (for Once), with an Unknown Interviewer, 23 June 2013

Lawrence Ferlinghetti on the Right (for Once), with an Unknown Interviewer, 23 June 2013

Tiles on the Floor from One of the Old Businesses

Tiles on the Floor from One of the Old Businesses that Used to Reside in the Same Building

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Perhaps an Idea for The Daily Post?

Perhaps an Idea for The Daily Post?

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Photographer Capturing the People Watching a Documentary of a Poetry Reading

Photographer Capturing the People Watching a Documentary of a Poetry Reading

Roll Your Own!, City Lights Bookstore, San Francisco, California, 23 June 2013

Roll Your Own!, City Lights Bookstore, San Francisco, California, 23 June 2013

If there exists one aspect of Ferlinghetti’s publishing, writing and retail careers that has come in for criticism in San Francisco, it lies in the fact that frankly, he has made a lot of money with his idiosyncratic little business where they don’t seem to mind if you spend hours reading on one of the many stools available. Yes, I have actually heard people complain that Mr. Ferlinghetti has made a decent living or better at poetry. I have heard many ridiculous things in my 31 years in my adopted hometown. This ranks in the Top 10. Instead of griping about how he has profited from other people’s poetry, why can’t they say that he has taken on The Man at His own game and beaten The Man at it? (for those of you too young to recall, “the man” was always written as “The Man” during the Sixties, even as the definition of “The Man” varied with almost every use). City Lights has somehow managed to survive as a tiny independent bookstore in an era when even the mightiest chain bookstores have fallen, at least for the time being, so I say let’s give Mr. Ferlinghetti credit.

Then I see something like this:

What Would Jack Kerouac Say?

What Would Jack Kerouac Say?

…and think that maybe the critics have a point.

And then I think again.

No. They don’t.

Keep on keeping on, Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Long may you retail.

Vonn Scott Bair

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4 responses »

  1. What fun! Wish I could have been there. It looks like a place where I could spend an hour or two or ten.

    Shocking that it’s controversial in America for someone to make a decent living – wasn’t that the point of coming here in the first place?

    If you get back there, wish him a happy anniversary from me.

    • cynthiamc1: Good points, all. Some people have this notion that artists are supposed to suffer for their art, and they are not supposed to succeed in the business world. However, some poets in America have done well in other professions: Wallace Stevens worked in insurance, while William Carlos Williams was a pediatrician who worked on his poems between patients. So why not make a few bucks as a publisher, esp. when you can promote writers who share your political views? Vonn Scott Bair

  2. I spent an hour or so in the City Lights and loved it, not just for the books but for the atmosphere. I love bookshops where you are welcome to browse. Ended up buying several books including some by San Fran poets including one by Lawrence Ferlinghetti.

    In his challenges to Young Poets I particularly liked this:
    “Don’t contemplate your navel in poetry and think the rest of the world is going to think it important”

    Nice post Vonn, the photos really capture the essence of the shop which is so much more than a shop…
    Jude xx

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