The Beat Generation lives on in San Francisco

March 24 2019

(CNN) — It began with a poem.

"I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked ..."

When Allen Ginsberg read his poem "Howl" at the now-closed Six Gallery in San Francisco on October 7, 1955, he was rising up against the Cold War, the wars in Asia and what President Dwight Eisenhower had dubbed the "military industrial complex."

San Francisco poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, co-founder of City Lights Booksellers & Publishers, was in the audience and sent Ginsberg a telegram afterward offering to publish it.

From suits to poets

"The Beat poets began the counterculture movement in the arts that is the reason all the artists I know are still here in San Francisco," said Andrew Sean Greer, a San Francisco-based novelist who won the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for "Less."

"Ferlinghetti and his friends changed the city from men in gray flannel suits to poets in leaky basements, black and female and queer poets even then," Greer tells CNN Travel. "We're a continuation of that hope and rage and art. I still go to Caffe Trieste with a friend to write and Vesuvio to drink and City Lights for poetry."

As he turned 100 on March 24, both Ferlinghetti, City Lights -- which remains a beacon of poetry and progressive thought in San Francisco's North Beach neighborhood -- and the city all celebrated.

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