City Lights Books in San Francisco is independent bookstore and publisher founded in 1953 by poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti. The bookstore spans three cosy floors of a 1907 building in the city’s North Beach neighborhood and is stocked floor to ceiling with seemingly every book imaginable. The press has published works by such influential poets and authors as Allen Ginsberg, Charles Bukowski, Sam Shepard, Howard Zinn, and Urchin favourite Will Potter.
According to their website, City Lights specializes in world literature, the arts, and progressive politics. This artistic, activist ethic permeates the aesthetic of the bookstore. Handmade signs welcome you to sit down and read. Rally posters and poetry event notices litter every surface. Similar to Busboys & Poets in Washington, D.C., City Lights inspires you to not only read, but act.
In a case of literary destiny (like finding myself unknowingly following Mrs. Dalloway’s path while reading the book in London), last weekend I arbitrarily booked a hostel in San Francisco that just happened to be down the block from City Lights. Every time I passed by, the bookstore was teeming with people, many often even spilling out onto the sidewalk outside. Open until midnight seven days a week, City Lights is both a community hub and a visitors’ mecca with its arms always open to receive those eager for a hit of its inspiration.
City Lights is a brave, unwavering bastion of artistic, political, and social independence and action. Stop by, have a read, and decide what you’re going to do.