Lawrence Ferlinghetti at 100 – declined Hungarian PEN award

Almost 40 years ago I was a newcomer to San Francisco. On weekends we would hang out at North Beach with friends at the Caffe Trieste and always had a mandatory stop at City Lights the legendary (and cozy) bookstore on Columbus Ave. I often chatted with the tall, friendly older guy behind the cashier’s desk. He sat on a stool and handled business casually with a smile.

At that time, I didn’t know that he was Lawrence Ferlinghetti.

Soon I moved out to the suburbs and rarely visited the store. Today it is almost impossible to park in the neighborhood, a couple of years ago I came in to hear Krasznahorkai at a crowded but memorable City Lights book reading.

On March 24,, 2019 Ferlinghetti celebrated his 100th birthday. He now lives in his painting studio in the Hunters Point district of San Francisco.

Ferlinghetti in his studio

Ferlinghetti is not just a celebrated American poet, painter, publisher and owner of City Lights Bookstore; he is my hero. In 2012 he declined a 50,000 Euro Hungarian award (about $60,000) citing concerns over free speech rights and civil liberties.

The Janus Pannonius International Poetry Prize was awarded by the Hungarian division of PEN, an international organization that supports the freedom to write and often campaigns to help writers who have been imprisoned or silenced.

When Ferlinghetti learned that the prize was partially funded by the Orbán government he wrote a letter expressing his concerns.

Dear Géza Szőcs,

After careful research into the Pannonius Prize and its sponsors, including the present Hungarian government, I have come to the following conclusions: Since the Prize is partially funded by the present Hungarian government, and since the policies of this right-wing regime tend toward authoritarian rule and the consequent curtailing of freedom of expression and civil liberties, I find it impossible for me to accept the Prize in the United States. Thus I must refuse the Prize in its present terms.

However, assuming the total devotion of the Hungarian PEN Club and yourself to freedom of speech and social justice, I propose that the Prize money be used to set up a fund to be administered by the Hungarian PEN Club, said fund to be devoted solely to the publication of Hungarian authors whose writings support total freedom of speech, civil rights, and social justice. These are the only terms under which I can accept the Pannonius Prize.

In defense of individual freedom and democratic institutions, I am faithfully yours,

Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Happy (belated) Birthday Lawrence Ferlinghetti!

Ginsberg, Yevtushenko and Ferlinghetti in the 1970s

György Lázár


  1. May he live to be 120! Rare gem indeed.

  2. Avatar Andras B. Gollner says:

    A very fitting hommage to a cultural icon, an exemplary citizen of the world who recognizes that the strangulation of free speech anywhere is an attack on free speech everywhere. Bravo Lawrence Ferlinghetti, may your remaining life on this earth be blessed with good health, unfailing creative energy and good cheer, may your spirit live on forever and set a shining example to people even in the furthest and darkest corners of the world.

  3. Our fight has many fronts and many heroes. Trump and Orbán may be gone tomorrow, but the struggle will go on. Vive la résistance!

  4. This story speaks to leftist-globalist ideological intolerance more than anything, in my view! If Mr. Ferlinghetti would truly care about freedom, he might want to take a closer look at Western media freedom. The Advocates Abroad CEO video, bragging about how her organization, backed by Western World’s most powerful universities and other institutions coached perhaps as many as 15,000 ME migrants in a single year on how to lie and deceive in order to gain EU asylum appeared last year. I continue to remain astonished in regards to the cross-border and cross-“ideological divide” discipline the MSM has shown in shunning the story, thus keeping the overwhelming majority of the sheep in the dark.

    The last threat to this MSM discipline is about to be extradited and will likely go on trial in the US, in a US-UK-Sweden effort to silence him. After that, few will dare to challenge again.

    Mr. Ferlinghetti does not have to go further than this site if he wants to learn about the freedom of expression instincts of his own ideological movement. Not long ago I challenged Christopher Adam to factually back up one of his claims in an article, which I know for a fact to be a lie. I found it important to do so, because I know that the same false claim is often made in Ukrainian & Romanian media, as well as by their political elites as a way to hurt ethnic Hungarian minorities in respective countries. Author-Editor’s response? Just don’t publish comment that will hurt his reputation! Did not even bother to remove false, and harmful claim from article, even though he cannot factually back it up.

    Mr. Ferlinghetti seems like a remarkable fellow and a gentle soul, but clearly ideologically indoctrinated, thinking he is anti-establishment, while supporting a well-entrenched system of sophisticated control, by blasting a rebellion against it. Also goes without saying, he is too old to re-asses his distorted world-view. Most young people in our society are just as incapable of doing so. Too deeply indoctrinated they are, so cannot fault him, given that he is a century old!

    • It is now official! The Western World has perhaps the most famous journalist, in prison, based on a case that all started with bogus, most likely engineered charges of “rape” in Sweden. Then of course, he will be sent to the US.

      Should point to the fact that Chelsea Manning first went to a number of MSM outlets with his info, before he turned to Wikileaks.

      Where will the next whisleblower turn to when the establishment will feel threatened by info and will close ranks? Obscure blogs that few people will ever read, and most of us will be told that we should not trust to begin with?

      To my knowledge Hungary does not have any journalist in prison currently, based on bogus charges. Clearly not a world that Mr. Ferlinghetti has any hope of understanding.

      He should be glad he is too old to see what will come in the next few decades. Asange’s persecution started with bogus rape charges, which since declared bogus, but no matter! Others will mysteriously try to board a plane with an 8-ball of cocaine in their jacket pocket. But the establishment will want to make sure that those who would also like to try, will understand that same might happen to them. And those who share same ideological inclination with current establishment, will cheer every time someone will be paraded and shamed and persecuted, but they should not! They should understand that current establishment only shares those views out of current convenience. In other words, it has been the most convenient adaptation to their own interests. But that can and will change as circumstances will change. And then will come their turn!

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