This weekend, Lawrence Ferlinghetti celebrated a birthday that not everyone pulls off. The former poet laureate of San Francisco and founder of City Lights Bookstore turned 99 on Saturday. Although he's moving somewhat slower than he did during North Beach's Beatnik heyday, Ferlinghetti's voice is as vital as ever, says the San Francisco Chronicle.
Lawrence Monsanto Ferling was born in Yonkers, New York, on March 24, 1919. His father, Carlo Ferlinghetti, died before his birth, and his mother, Clemence, was committed to a mental hospital shortly thereafter. Lawrence spent part of his childhood in a state-run orphanage before moving with his aunt to France. After living near Strasbourg "long enough to learn the language," young Lawrence and his aunt returned to New York and took up residence in a stately mansion owned by the Bisland family in Bronxville.
The young man who would one day be declared the poet laureate of San Francisco attended Riverdale Country Day School and a preparatory academy in Massachusetts before enrolling at the University of North Carolina where he worked on the student staff of The Tarheel. Ferlinghetti told the San Francisco Chronicle that he chose to attend the Chapel Hill school because Thomas Wolfe, who wrote Look Homeward, Angel, had gone there.
After earning his bachelor's degree in journalism from UNC, Ferlinghetti enlisted in the U.S. Navy and ultimately used his G.I. Bill benefits to continue his education at Columbia University where he received a master's degree in 1948, according to his bio at the Poetry Foundation. Lawrence Ferlinghetti completed his doctoral degree at the University of Paris, Sorbonne, in 1950. As an adult, Lawrence Ferling reverted to the original family name, Ferlinghetti.
On January 1, 1951, Ferlinghetti moved to San Francisco where he painted, worked as an art critic, and taught French in an adult education program before founding San Francisco's first paperback book shop, City Lights Bookstore, with former sociology professor Peter D. Martin in June, 1953.