Three hundred and fifty independent bookstores across America celebrate their tenacity and appreciation for their customers on Saturday, May 2—including Mississippi Independent Bookstores. National Independent Bookstore was inspired by California’s first Independent Bookstore Day in 2014 which was celebrated by an impressive 93 California bookstores.
One of the most legendary bookstores in California is City Lights in San Francisco, opened in 1953 by poet and activist Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Peter Martin, a sociology student and publisher of a magazine called City Lights. Martin’s idea was to open a quality paperback bookshop. At that time, paperbacks were sold at newsstands and little thought was given to the impact a small, cheap book could make.
A couple of years after their shop opened, Ferlinghetti heard the first public reading of “Howl” by Allen Ginsberg at the 6 Gallery. The poem opens:
“I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix.”
Ferlinghetti had started a series of books called City Lights Pocket Poets Series and he famously sent Ginsberg a telegram after hearing Ginsberg read “Howl”:
“I greet you at the beginning of a great career. When do I get the manuscript?”
“Howl and Other Poems” became Number Four in Ferlinghetti’s City Lights Pocket Poets Series, but hundreds of copies of the book were seized by U.S. Customs officials and Ferlinghetti was charged with obscenity. The charges were later dropped when Judge Clayton W. Horn ruled that the poem had redeeming social importance.
Through Ferlinghetti’s bookstore, his own poetry, the publication of “Howl”–which set precedence for the freedom to publish controversial literary works of redeeming social importance, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, now 96-years-old, embodies everything an independent bookstore and its booksellers could ever wish to be.
Ferlinghetti wrote dozens of poetry books, including America’s most popular selling book of poetry, A Coney Island of the Mind. Over the years, the poet has signed paperbacks of his poetry for fans who have visited City Lights bookstore. For serious collectors, Ferlinghetti’s books issued as signed limited editions will have lasting value and beauty.