Reading Matters

Ferlinghetti on Chapel Hill and journalism


Lawence Ferlinghetti came to town in 1977, and I took him out to dinner.

What he had to say then is still relevant today.

The poet who sparked the Beat Movement in the 1950s and founded the famous City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco, talked about journalism and his alma mater – UNC-Chapel Hill.

Ferlinghetti – who still lives at 96 – said he chose Chapel Hill because it’s where Thomas Wolfe studied and because schools in the South were cheaper. He tried out – unsuccessfully – for the basketball team and ended up covering sports for the Daily Tar Heel.

For students who want to be writers, he suggested journalism “for awhile.”

“Newspaper writing teaches you to observe,” he said. “Hard observation is the main discipline for a poet. That’s how you learn to see old things in a new way – or new things in an old way.”

Writing courses? “Good for about a year,” he said. “After all, they’re teaching you what’s already been done. They’re obviously not teaching you what hasn’t been done.”

As for observation, I don’t remember what he wore or what we ate or even where we ate what we ate.