Lawrence Ferlinghetti, this year's winner of the Curtis Benjamin Award for Creative Publishing, called his selection an "award to all the independent publishers in the country who have been publishing books that take courage to publish in this avaricious publishing world."
Ferlinghetti, poet, activist, literary troublemaker and noted founder of City Lights Publishers, received the award during the annual meeting of the Association of American Publishers in New York earlier this month.
He gave much credit for the success of City Lights Books to co-owner Nancy Peters and associate director Elaine Katzenberger.
Ferlinghetti founded the press 50 years ago as a natural extension of being a bookseller and community center. City Lights has remained faithful to its mission, publishing literary works, poetry and books on the cutting edge of politics and culture. The press and Ferlinghetti both made national headlines in 1956 with the publication of Allen Ginsberg's Howl and Other Poems. Ferlinghetti was arrested for obscenity and a landmark First Amendment case followed, which the publisher won. City Lights authors include Jack Kerouac, Paul Bowles, Norman Mailer and devorah major. The Pocket Poetry series that launched the press continues today.
"We're not coasting on our backlist," Ferlinghetti told PW. Among the titles on the press's current list are Superpatriotism by Michael Parenti and Kill the Indian, Save the Man: The Genocidal Impact of American Indian Residential Schools by the controversial academic Ward Churchill.
The octogenarian Ferlinghetti doesn't plan on retiring. Last year, New Directions published the first of two volumes of his verse, Americus. He's also received a lifetime achievement award from the Author's Guild, the Robert Frost Medal from the Poetry Society of America and was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
Ferlinghetti told PW that he hopes for the emergence of a "populist poetry," like Whitman's. He explained: "I hope poets will stop being so obscure and write poetry that will have an undeniable and universal appeal that will make everyone just have to get it and read it."