Sunday, 17 November 2013

City Lights Bookstore, Founded 1953

The first all-paperback bookstore in the US, at first sharing the space with other shops, was opened in 1953 by sociology professor Peter D. Martin, who had relocated from NYC in the 40's.  Ferlinghetti, a French teacher in an adult education program, painter, and art critic, met him one day outside hanging a sign "Pocket Book Shop" and they decided to invest $500 each.  They hired Shig Murao as clerk, who worked for free for the first few weeks.  The bookstore became a popular place with writers and artists.

Martin left in 1955.  Ferlinghetti published his first book of poems, Pictures of the Gone World, in August 1955, and followed this with books by Kenneth Rexroth, Kenneth Patchen, Marie Ponsot, Bob Kaufman, Denise Levertov, Robert Duncan, William Carlos Williams, and Gregory Corso.

On October 7, 1955 Ferlinghetti was at the Six Gallery reading where:

      Phillip Lamantia read poems by his dead friend John Hoffman.
      McClure read "Point Lobos Animism" and "For the Death of 100 Whales".
      Gary Snyder read "A Berry Feast".
      Philip Whalen read "Plus Ca Change." 
      Allen Ginsberg read Howl.
      Jack Kerouac refused to read his work and shouted "Yeah! Go! Go!" during the performances.
      Neil Cassady passed around a wine jug and a collection plate.
The next day he telegraphed Ginsberg to congratulate him and later offered to publish him.  

After Murao and Ferlinghetti were arrested for obscenity by an undercover cop for selling Howl and the second printing of the book was seized by customs in 1956, the bookshop received mass press and support from the American Civil Liberties Union and literary and academic figures, and defended by the First Amendment, the book was found not obscene in 1957 after a long trial, becoming a landmark civil rights case.

A photo taken in 1965Upper Top Row: Stella Levy, lawrence Ferlinghetti. Second standing row: Donald Schenker, Michael Grieg, unknown person, Mike Gibbons, David Miltger, Michael McClure, Allan Ginsberg, Dan Langton, Steve Brostan, Gary Goodraw and son Homer, Richard Brautigan (in back of Goodrow). Seated: unknown person, Shig Murao, Lew Welch, Peter Orlovski.

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