This Sunday, June 23, City Lights Booksellers and Publishers in San Francisco, celebrates 60 years of opening its doors as a haven for progressive literary minds and their avid cohorts.
The celebratory events will begin with an open house featuring live jazz music and flash readings by some of San Fran’s own local authors and poets. Nostalgic film footage, special discounts, and some surprises will also honor the landmark’s longevity, which is a highly significant achievement for any bookseller.
The much-adored touchstone of San Fran, which helped launch a cultural revolution, will also be embraced in a series of upcoming events at venues throughout the city all year. Included are workshops, hosted events in Kerouac Alley, and a traveling photo exhibition of gay radical poet, Allen Ginsberg in partnership with the Contemporary Jewish Museum.
Keep reading Christopher Ludgate’s piece after the jump…
In the mid 1950s, while Ginsberg faced persecution by the government for his “obscene” work, HOWL, which challenged conformist norms and sexuality, City Lights’ founder, Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s decision to publish that poem as part of their Pocket Poets Series was just as radical, creating a legacy of the beatnik generation.
Today, it seems the cultural relevance of City Lights has not faded. Executive Director Elaine Katzenberger still sees the space as “one that pushes the intellectual and social margins outward, a rebellion against censorship and conservatism of any sort. [Today] it seems like we’ve come full circle with a political system bent on stifling dissent, a culture of consumer slumber that has to do with branding and replaces the need for investigation and reflection.”
City Lights has always been a proponent of individuality, including that of the gay and lesbian authors and artists. They have served as a backbone for strengthening the visibility of the LGBTQ community and raising political awareness within the community. Its history attracts out-of-towners from all over the globe as a “uniquely San Francisco experience,” says one patron.
Katzenberger keenly reasons: “Books in particular hold keys to visions and revelations and communities. I think that’s why we’re still here. And I think that is generally a human desire, whatever one’s sexuality or sexual behavior.”
As for the reconciling the digital age, City Lights’ executive director, who has also served as an editor says: “I think that a bookstore has even more relevance as a community space now—it’s a space for thinking—collectively. The digital world is another way for us to reach people with the same kinds of knowledge and ideas and cross-fertilizations that we’ve always tried to play a role in promoting, and we’re committed to that for the long term.”