1953: City Lights, the first all-paperback bookstore, opens in San Francisco

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1953 – Poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti and sociology teacher Peter D. Martin create the first all-paperback bookstore called ‘City Lights’ in homage to Charlie Chaplin… A moniker they already used for a magazine, which had been the first to publish the reviews of notorious film critic Pauline Kael.

1955City Lights becomes a publisher as well and launches the Pocket Poets Series.

1956Allan Ginsberg‘s poem ‘Howl’, published in the Pocket Poets Series, draws intense controversy because of its sexual practices and illicit drugs references, leading to a trial for obscenity in 1957. Charges are dismissed when a judge declares the poem of ‘social importance’. Thanks to the controversy and its positive outcome, the store is now worldwide-known.

The events of the trial are depicted in James Franco‘s 2010 movie ‘Howl’ written and directed by Rob Epstein & Jeffrey Friedman.

2001 – The San Francisco Board of Supervisors declares City Lights an official historic landmark.



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