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“A Literary Meeting Place Since 1953”
I still remember the awe I felt visiting City Lights for the first time, all sensation of it enhanced by the jazzy sounds and colors of the North Beach neighborhood, the steep hills and glittering skyscrapers of the city surrounding it. I’ve painted this urban landscape in the years since and it never gets boring to me.
You would think that the excitement would calm walking into the sanctuary of the store, but here it became more intense, every book packing the place seemed equally important to my development as an intelligently rebellious young adult.
In high school and early college years, I’d read many books by Kerouac, some poetry by Ginsberg and City Lights founder Lawrence Ferlinghetti, a little Henry Miller, and of course associated the store with them and the Beat Generation as a whole. I had learned about the obscenity trial accusing City Lights as publisher and purveyor of Ginsberg’s Howl and how the decision defended the First Amendment, setting a precedent for the protection of literary works with any redeeming social importance.
But it is only now, many years later, that I understand what a force City Lights has been in this country, a voice for progressive politics and a living symbol of culture in San Francisco.
“It is as if,” says Ferlinghetti, “the public were being invited, in person and in books, to participate in that ‘great conversation’ between authors of all ages, ancient and modern.”