Lawrence Ferlinghetti (born March 24, 1919) is an American poet, painter, liberal activist, and the co-founder of City Lights Booksellers & Publishers. Author of poetry, translations, fiction, theatre, art criticism, and film narration, he is best known for A Coney Island of the Mind (1958), a collection of poems that has been translated into nine languages, with sales of over one million copies.
Lawrence Ferlinghetti was born in Bronxville, New York on March 24, 1919. His mother, Albertine Mendes-Monsanto (born in Lyon, France) was of French/Portuguese Sephardic Jewish heritage. His father, Carlo Ferlinghetti, was born in the province of Brescia, Italy on March 14, 1872. He immigrated to the United States in 1894, was naturalized in 1896, and worked as an auctioneer in Little Italy, NYC. At some unknown point, Carlo Ferlinghetti shortened the family name to "Ferling," and Lawrence wouldn't learn of his original name until 1942, when he had to provide a birth certificate to join the U.S. Navy. Though he used "Ferling" for his earliest published work, Ferlinghetti reverted to the original Italian "Ferlinghetti" in 1955, when publishing his first book of poems, Pictures of the Gone World.
Ferlinghetti's father died six months before he was born, and his mother was committed to an asylum shortly after his birth. He was raised by his French aunt Emily, former wife of Ludovico Monsanto, an uncle of his mother from the Virgin Islands who taught Spanish at the U.S. Naval Academy. Emily took Ferlinghetti to Strasbourg, France, where they lived during his first five years, with French as his first language.
After their return to the U.S., Ferlinghetti was placed in an orphanage in Chappaqua, N.Y. while Emily looked for employment. She was eventually hired as a French governess for the daughter of Presley Eugene Bisland and his wife Anna Lawrence Bisland, in Bronxville, New York, the latter being the daughter of the founder of Sarah Lawrence College, William Van Duzer Lawrence. They resided at the Plashbourne Estate. In 1926, Ferlinghetti was left in the care of the Bislands. After attending various schools, including Riverdale Country School, Bronxville Public School, and Mount Hermon School (now Northfield Mount Hermon School). During these years, Ferlinghetti became an Eagle Scout in the Boy Scouts of America. He attended the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, where he earned a B.A. in journalism in 1941. His entry to the world of journalism was writing sports for The Daily Tar Heel, and he published his first short stories in Carolina Magazine, for which Thomas Wolfe had written.