City Lights Booksellers & Publishers was founded in 1953 by the Poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, along with Peter D. Martin, as the nation’s first all-paperback bookstore. In 1955, Ferlinghetti became the sole owner, launching City Lights Publishers, so he could publish the work of the Beat poets, who’s writing was frowned upon by the mainstream.
He published the Pocket Poets Series, which over time introduced many Beat writers such as Allen Ginsberg, Frank O’hara, and Jack Kerouac. In 1956, City Lights gained national recognition when Ferlinghetti published Ginsberg’s Howl and Other Poems. Ferlinghetti faced obscenity charges due to the poems themes of sexuality and substance. After a long trial (which was covered in Life Magazine picture story) in which poets, critics, and academics testified to the redeeming social value of Howl. It was ruled not obscene. The trial brought the Beats, City Lights, and the San Francisco counter-cultural community into a sphere of national visibility, cementing City Lights as a foundation of the Beat Movement, and beginning the counter-cultural migration to the West that would lead to the fostering of Haight-Ashbury as a mecca, and generate the massively creative and loving forces of flower power.
City Lights Books still exist today, stating on their website: “For over half a century, City Lights Books has demonstrated a commitment to preserving and promoting the diversity of voices and ideas that are represented in quality books. As the increasingly concentrated mass media and new information technologies change the way people live, work, and think, we believe that nurturing the ability to think critically, to discern truth, and to communicate knowledge is essential to a democratic society. With this in mind, we have formed the non-profit City Lights Foundation with the goal of advancing deep literacy, which is not only the ability to read and write, but fluency in the knowledge and skills that enable us to consciously shape our lives and the life of our community.” (Click here to go to their website and check out some awesome books!)