At City Lights in San Francisco, the boss is turning 100 and the party is on

Lawrence Ferlinghetti outside of City Lights Bookstore in 2013.
Lawrence Ferlinghetti outside of City Lights Bookstore in 2013.
(Stacey Lewis )

Nobody needs an excuse to visit City Lights Bookstore. It’s been one of San Francisco’s foremost bohemian institutions since 1953, the days when co-founder and poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti used to hang out with Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Neal Cassady and asserted other poets, bohemians and beatniks. But now we have added incentive.

On Sunday, Ferlinghetti celebrates his 100th birthday.

He has said he won’t be making any public appearances that day, but his bookshop has planned an open house birthday party, and literary festivities are in the works at four other neighborhood landmarks: Vesuvio Cafe, Canessa Gallery, Cafe Zoetrope and Specs bar.

$32 to cross the Golden Gate Bridge? Settlement with Hertz puts an end to that »


The bookstore, 261 Columbus Ave., plans readings of Ferlinghetti’s work and reminiscences by “an amazing lineup of poets, writers, and friends” (no names given) from 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday.

“There will be a proclamation from the city,” said City Lights floor manager Chris Phipps. “There will be poetry reading upstairs on the mezzanine and in the basement…. There are going to be singers outside in the alley, kind of like a theater troupe — lots and lots going on.”

Also that day:

At Vesuvio (next door at 255 Columbus Ave., [415] 362-3370), which dates to 1948, several Bay Area poets are expected to read from 3 to 4 p.m.


At Canessa Gallery (708 Montgomery St.), the documentary “Lawrence: A Lifetime in Poetry” will be screened hourly from 1 to 5 p.m. The event is free, and the gallery also has a “Ferlinghetti in Photographs” exhibit through March 28.

At Cafe Zoetrope (916 Kearny St., [415] 291-1700), readings are scheduled from 2 to 3 p.m.

At Specs bar (12 William Saroyan Place, across the street from City Lights, [415] 421-4112), a birthday after-party begins at 6 p.m. with presenters including poet Jessica Loos and Specs owner Elly Simmons.

Ferlinghetti, born in Yonkers, N.Y., served with the U.S. Navy in World War II, studied at Columbia University and the Sorbonne, moved to San Francisco in 1951 and built his bookstore as he built a career as a poet and publisher. (City Lights published Ginsberg’s beat epic “Howl” in 1956.)

Ferlinghetti’s own best-known book of poetry is “A Coney Island of the Mind” (1958). His most recent volume – publication date March 19, 2019 – is “Little Boy,” a mix of novel, memoir, rant and “word hoard” – “a shout into the maw of oblivion,” in the words of reviewer Tyler Malone in this newspaper.

Though Ferlinghetti can’t be at the bookshop Sunday, Phipps said, “he is very happy and so touched. ... He will be spending the day with some close friends.”

City Lights has gathered more info here on birthday events throughout San Francisco and beyond.


Follow Reynolds on Twitter: @MrCSReynolds

Get our weekly Escapes newsletter