article picture

The Beat Goes On: City Lights at 60

by Lisa Harrington

article picture

City Lights on Columbus near Broadway (Lisa Harrington)

Eat. Sleep. Read. Provoke. So says one of many eye-catching signs at City Lights Booksellers & Publishers. The independent bookstore, located at 261 Columbus Avenue, is a popular stop on North Beach tours. Step inside and you’ll find plenty to feed your mind.

City Lights was co-founded in 1953 by Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Peter D. Martin as the first all paperbound bookstore in the country. From the start it was a meeting place for writers, artists, and intellectuals. The bookstore became known as a gathering spot for the Beat poets, including Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, in the 1950s. In 1956, Ferlinghetti was arrested on obscenity charges for publishing Ginsberg’s Howl & Other Poems. Represented by the ACLU and supported throughout the literary and academic world, he was acquitted. A timeline of the trial, a landmark case for the First Amendment, is proudly displayed at the bookstore, as is the ACLU’s poster for books that have been banned in the U.S. Among them are The Catcher in the Rye, Of Mice and Men, To Kill a Mockingbird, Huckleberry Finn, and Gone With the Wind. In 1998, Ferlinghetti was named Poet Laureate of San Francisco. In 2003 he was awarded the Robert Frost Memorial Medal, the Author's Guild Lifetime Achievement Award, and he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

article picture

Howl for Baby (Lisa Harrington)





The bookstore will be celebrating its 60 years in San Francisco with readings, lively conversations, author tributes, musical performances, and other free events through the end of the year. Visit the website for info: http://www.citylights.com

Send comments and questions to guidelines@sfcityguides.org
Material of San Francisco City Guides. Please give credit to the author and SF City Guides if referenced or reproduced.