Planet News

Gustavo holds a photo of himself as Donna Personna. photo: James Hosking

“Beautiful by Night”documents of three of San Francisco’s veteran drag queens and the vanishing world of Tenderloin gay bars.  (Mother Jones)

“Your ability to imagine that there is a market has to do with your ability to imagine that those people exist… And if [you] can’t imagine that people of color actually exist and can buy books, then you can’t imagine selling books to them. That’s not just about a company corporate diversity policy; it’s about actually knowing what’s going on in communities of color.”  Ken Chen, poet and director of the Asian American Writers’ Workshop
We Need Diverse Books on NPR, featuring Johnny Temple, Juno Diaz, Dawn Davis and more

“Both Bishop and Gunn in their work kept themselves distant from the reader. They described the world as though they watched it rather than fully took part in it; they did not explore themselves or their feelings in poems. Bishop wrote from a position of uneasy helplessness, a deep-seated fastidiousness and wonder at even the smallest object, and Gunn enjoyed having power and control over metre and rhythm and line.”
Colm Toíbín on Elizabeth Bishop and Thom Gunn (The Guardian)


Jericho Brown, in these two poems, knits two environments into a corporeal being, lays open that same corpus to the world’s sometimes violent permeations. With the kind of controlled, steady release of (under)statement that implies an incipient explosion, Brown sings readers into a tense beauty, an unquiet to which we are drawn, even as it stings us.”
Heather Christle on Jericho Brown (Pen Poetry Series)


“Spain and I liked to tell stories to each other. Mine were about Fresno and Firebaugh, his were about Buffalo. Stories about sex, gang fighting, cars. One time we were so into it, we forgot we were supposed to pick up our daughters. And when our wives came home, they were like, “where are the kids” and we went, “oh shit.” They had been given three dollars and were found in an egg roll shop having a soda after their acting class let out.”
Ron Turner of Last Gasp on Spain Rodriguez along with many other wild tales of underground comix in San Francisco (Reddit)


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Spotlight on the City Lights Spotlight Series

Our 60th Anniversary celebration of our Publishing house continues with a look at one of our newest series, spotlighting innovative contemporary poets both young and old, the City Lights Spotlight Series.

The 13 current volumes of the City Lights Spotlight Series

In 2009, City Lights enlisted the multitalented poet, journalist, and literary critic Garrett Caples to edit the new City Lights Spotlight Series of contemporary poetry volumes. The first title in the series was Bay Area writer and visual artist Norma Cole‘s Where Shadows Will: Selected Poems, 1988-2008which went on to be nominated for the Northern California Independent Bookseller’s Association Award for Poetry Book of the Year. Since then, twelve more Spotlight volumes have been published, with Alli Warren’s 2013 Here Come the Warm Jets recently having been awarded the San Francisco Poetry Center Book Award. The newest book in this series, volume 13, is Women in Public, by Oakland-based poet and musician Elaine Kahn. One of the core ideas of the Spotlight books is to use the visibility of City Lights to “spotlight” innovative American poets both young and overlooked as well as the small presses that have published their work in the past.

The Spotlight Series also recalls the original mission of City Lights Publishing, which began in 1955 with founder Lawrence Ferlinghetti‘s now-classic book of poems Pictures of the Gone World. Soon followed Allen Ginsbergs landmark volume Howl and Other Poems, which put the City Lights Pocket Poets series on the map. The Pocket Poets books fit nicely with the bookstore’s status as the first all-paperback bookstore in the country. They were small, cheap, square-shaped books that tucked snugly into the back pockets of the denim jeans people were beginning to IMG_20150424_112620_559wear everywhere in the late ’50s and early ’60s. Just as Penguin books had revolutionized the look, feel, and affordability of classic literature for a rising middle class earlier in the century, the Pocket Poets Series brought contemporary avant-garde literary work to the post-war masses in a new and instantly recognizable format.


The original standardized Pocket Poets covers are now considered, like their Penguin ancestors, classics of contemporary graphic design. While the Spotlight Series doesn’t exactly mimic the format of the old Pocket Poets books, its new twist on the standardized cover design is destined to ingrain itself on the retinal memory of book lovers everywhere. Further, the Spotlight Series carries the Pocket Poets’ torch by focusing a large part of the City Lights poetry publishing program on what’s happening in America’s poetry scenes today. The goal is to continue honoring the older series’ legacy of innovation, discovery, and inclusiveness.

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5 Questions with Viet Thanh Nguyen

sympathizerThis Thursday City Lights Bookstore welcomes Viet Thanh Nguyen, who will be reading from his acclaimed debut novel, The Sympathizer, a book T.C. Boyle says is “destined to become a classic.” Viet took the time to answer our 5 questions before the event.

Event: Thursday, April 23 at 7:00PM. Viet Thanh Nguyen reading from his book, The Sympathizer: A Novel (from Grove Press) at City Lights Bookstore.

About the Book: It is April 1975, and Saigon is in chaos. At his villa, a general of the South Vietnamese army is drinking whiskey and, with the help of his trusted captain, drawing up a list of those who will be given passage aboard the last flights out of the country. The general and his compatriots start a new life in Los Angeles, unaware that one among their number, the captain, is secretly observing and reporting on the group to a higher-up in the Viet Cong. The Sympathizer is the story of this captain: a man brought up by an absent French father and a poor Vietnamese mother, a man who went to university in America, but returned to Vietnam to fight for the Communist cause. Viet Thanh Nguyen’s astonishing novel takes us inside the mind of this double agent, a man whose lofty ideals necessitate his betrayal of the people closest to him. A gripping spy novel, an astute exploration of extreme politics, and a moving love story, The Sympathizer explores a life between two worlds and examines the legacy of the Vietnam War in literature, film, and the wars we fight today.

“Magisterial. A disturbing, fascinating and darkly comic take on the fall of Saigon and its aftermath and a powerful examination of guilt and betrayal. The Sympathizer is destined to become a classic and redefine the way we think about the Vietnam War and what it means to win and to lose.”—T. C. Boyle

vietAbout the Author: Viet Thanh Nguyen is an associate professor of English and American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California, as well as a member of the steering committee for the Center for Transpacific Studies. He has won numerous teaching and service awards. He is the author of Race and Resistance: Literature and Politics in Asian America (Oxford University Press, 2002.) His articles have appeared in numerous journals and books, including PMLA, American Literary History, Western American Literature, positions: east asia cultures critique, The New Centennial Review, Postmodern Culture, the Japanese Journal of American Studies, and Asian American Studies After Critical Mass. His short fiction has been published in Manoa, Best New American Voices 2007, A Stranger Among Us: Stories of Cross-Cultural Collision and Connection, Narrative Magazine, TriQuarterly, the Chicago Tribune, and Gulf Coast, where his story won the 2007 Fiction Prize.

visit: for more.


City Lights: If you’ve been to City Lights before, what’s your memory of the visit?

Viet Thanh Nguyen: The first time I visited City Lights was around 1996, when I was a graduate student at Berkeley. I was on a date with a beautiful girl whom I had met when she came to a poetry reading I had organized and read a poem at the open mic. No surprise, she’s now my wife. The fact that we were both thrilled to visit City Lights was a good early sign that we had something in common.

CL: If your book had a soundtrack, what would it be?

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Excerpts from In Search of the Movement: The Struggle for Civil Rights Then and Now

in search of the movementParisian-born author and documentary film maker Benjamin Hedin‘s In Search of the Movement: The Struggle For Civil Rights Then And Now declares to “look for the [Civil Rights] movement” specifically within it’s American origins in the Deep South. Though it is not a naive endeavor through any fault of Hedin, he points out in the introduction that,

The American civil rights movement, I was always taught, was a moment in time, something that happened in the middle of the last century, went on for about a decade and a half, and then stopped. That’s how many courses in high school and college treat it, and it’s also how the movement is normally portrayed on television.

Hedin finds several legendary members of the movement working progressively in their communities, nonstop since the 1960’s. Half history, half conversation, In Search of the Movement, at its core, outlines the importance of organization and the dilemma of actual equalized access to education. It contemplates different methodologies, musings on past organizing efforts, and the much needed work to be done despite the too often unsung accomplishments of movement members.

A recent review on Kirkus Reviews notes,

While Hedin acknowledges the enormous changes that took place within that frame—nonviolent boycotts, sit-ins, marches, and demonstrations ultimately forced the government to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and begin the process of desegregation in schools and other institutions—so much still begs to be done. The evidence is abundant: intractable inequality in education, the killing of unarmed young black men by police forces, and the strictures on voter registration in conservative states such as North Carolina.

In Search of the Movement is also a call to action. It aims to bridge the gap between organizers and those writing about it. Hedin rightly focuses on the ongoing struggle, stepping away and allowing those voices to be heard. Bob Moses, a SNCC leader and developer of the Algebra Project, recalls to Hedin,

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5 Questions with Eli Horowitz

new worldThis Tuesday we welcome Eli Horowitz back to City Lights Books, this time to discuss and read from his new novel, The New World (from FSG and co-authored with Chris Adrian). His answers to our 5 questions are below.

Event: Tuesday, April 21 @ 7pm. Eli Horowitz celebrating the release of The New World at City Lights Bookstore.

About the Book: Jorie has just received some terrible news. A phone full of missed calls and sympathetic text messages seem to indicate that her husband, Jim, a chaplain at the hospital where she works as a surgeon, is dead. Only, not quite—rather, his head has been removed from his body and cryogenically frozen. Jim awakes to find himself in an altogether unique situation, to say the least: his body gone but his consciousness alive, his only companion a mysterious, disembodied voice.

In this surreal and unexpectedly moving work, Chris Adrian and Eli Horowitz spin a tale of loss and adjustment, death and reawakening. Simultaneously fabulist and achingly human, The New World finds Jorie grieving the husband she knew while Jim wrestles with the meaning of life after death. Conceived in collaboration with Atavist Books, The New World interrogates love and loss in the digital era.

About the Author: Eli Horowitz was the managing editor and then publisher of McSweeney’s for eight years. The author of The Silent History, he is also the coauthor of The Clock Without a Face, a treasure-hunt mystery, and Everything You Know Is Pong, an illustrated cultural history of Ping-Pong, and his design work has been honored by I.D., Print, and the American Institute of Graphic Arts. He lives in San Francisco.

City Lights: If you’ve been to City Lights before, what’s your memory of the visit?

Eli Horowitz: There’ve been dozens of visits over the years. On one of my first times there, Pete Maravelis led a group of us through what I remember as a secret door, into what I remember as a hidden cavern, where we stared at Ferlinghetti‘s desk with hushed awe.

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Planet News

“The shop has accrued so much history since it opened in the 50s… The beat generation’s influence is something we admire—particularly William Burroughs using the library to research Naked Lunch. The shop also lets writers sleep there and produce work which is a unique and fascinating thing… The characters represented are both living writers and dead writers sharing this space at the same time— reflecting the sense that this space is truly steeped in history… George Whitman’s head can be found in the attic, this alludes to the picture as manifestation of Whitman’s mind, and the drawing can be read as an exquisite corpse in composition. His spirit resonates in the shop.”
London-based punk artist collective Le Gun creates drawings for Parisian bookstore Shakespeare & Company (via Melville House)


“Librarians are especially concerned about the number of books by and about people of color that are challenged and banned—80 percent of this year’s list “reflect diverse issues and cultural content.” Those numbers are reflected in a recent survey by young adult author Malinda Lo, who found that between 2010 and 2013, 52 percent of banned and challenged books contained diverse content. “Attempts to remove books by authors of color and books with themes about issues concerning communities of color are disproportionately challenged and banned,” said the ALA in a release. “The lack of diverse books for young readers continues to fuel concern.”
Native Americans, Iran and gay penguins top the American Library Association’s Top Ten List of Frequently Challenged Books. (Via We Need Diverse Books)


For a week I’ve been falling in love with the prose of Charles Bowden.  He’s probably best known as a fearless reporter on Juarez & the lore of the border.  But it turns out he is also, & at all times, a great nature writer, a psalmist of the pit, a sober witness & a man who did his job.  I marvel that he was never struck dumb by things he saw.”
Ariana Reines on Charles Bowden and more (Via Harriet)


“A few students had been making queries about why no one taught Williams, Pound or Gertrude Stein, let alone H.D. I was trying to get the school to invite Allen Ginsberg to read. Jon and I had been exchanging work, he’d sent copies of Ted Berrigan’s C magazine jamming my little rustic p.o. box. He’d known Ron Padgett at Columbia University. We were on to the New American Poetry and the poetry net was widening, inviting.”
Ann Waldman on Angel Hair (via Jacket 2)


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5 Questions with Ryan Gattis

all involvedAt City Lights Books this Wednesday, Ryan Gattis will be reading from his acclaimed new novel All Involved (Ecco). He answers our 5 questions are below.

Event: Wednesday, April 15 @ 7PM at City Lights Bookstore: Ryan Gattis reading from All Involved.

About the Book: At 3:15 p.m. on April 29, 1992, a jury acquitted two Los Angeles Police Department officers charged with using excessive force to subdue civilian Rodney King, and failed to reach a verdict on the same charges involving a third officer. Less than two hours later, the city of L.A., a powder keg of racial tension, exploded in violence as people took to the streets in a riot that lasted six days. In 144 hours, fifty-three lives were lost. Yet, that number does not account for the murders that occurred outside active rioting sites—some committed by gangbangers who used the chaos to viciously settle old scores.

A gritty and cinematic work of fiction, All Involved vividly recreates this turbulent and terrifying time through seventeen interconnected first-person narratives. Focusing on a sliver of Los Angeles almost completely ignored by the media during the riots, Ryan Gattis paints a portrait of modern America itself—laying bare our history, our prejudices, and our complexities. Resonant with the voices of gang members, firefighters, graffiti kids, and nurses caught up in these extraordinary circumstances, All Involved is a literary tour de force that catapults this edgy writer into the ranks of such legendary talents as Dennis Lehane and George V. Higgins.

All Involved is a symphonic, pitch-perfect, superlative novel.  It is visceral and adrenalin-fuelled, yet tender and even darkly comic.  It is audacious, unflinching and subversive.  It doesn’t judge.  It swallowed me whole.”—David Mitchell, author of The Bone Clocks and Cloud Atlas

Ryan Gattis, author.
Photo by Sam Tenney

About the Author: Ryan Gattis is a novelist, lecturer at Chapman University, and Creative Director for urban art crew UGLAR ( He is the author of the novels Roo Kickkick & The Big Bad Blimp; Kung Fu High School, The Big Drop: Homecoming and The Big Drop: Impermanence. He lives in Los Angeles.

City Lights: If you’ve been to City Lights before, what’s your memory of the visit?

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Planet News

Need a lyrical lift? Better ‘Call Allen’


“Alli tells me she’s going to write me a poem with a line in it that goes “I’ve got legs!”, something I say often, because even though I live in California now, my dad never taught me how to drive. It’s true, though, I’ve got legs, and perhaps I could go someplace, even if I don’t know where.”
Trisha Low on Alli Warren, Elaine Kahn, crashing cars and formaldehyde…

Interview with a bookstore! Read about the ducks and dead bodies that haunt City Lights over at lithub

“In her novel Summer of Hate, Kraus offers a coyly ironic evocation of her own fan base: “Asperger’s boys, girls who’d been hospitalized for mental illness, assistant professors who would not be receiving their tenure, lap dancers, cutters, and whores.” The message: people with wounds and frustrated dreams. The other message: Kraus has a sense of humor.”
Leslie Jamison on Chris Kraus! (Via The New Yorker)

George RR Martin says right-wing lobby has broken Hugo awards
(Via The Guardian)

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The City Lights Books of Juan Felipe Herrera, Poet Laureate of California

We continue to look back at 60 years of City Lights publishing with the works of Juan Felipe Herrera.


America’s legacy of multilingual, multiethnic, multi-confessional cohabitation has always been an imperfect one. We are stuck with many of the same skeletons in our national history that also haunt and scarify the people (both settlers and subject natives) of former colonial powers the world over. Nonetheless, it is a fact that the phrase “American identity” remains so difficult to define, even by those who claim it for themselves with fervor, precisely because it has always been an identity with blurred contours and no fixed form.

If America represents something new in the world and not just one more exhausted failure atop a tall refuse heap of previous empires, then that quality of distinction depends upon the sense one has that we are a nation of immigrants. All of the protagonists in this sweeping drama we call a country are, in one way or another, our fellow travelers and ancestors. They are all Americans. They comprise the network of tributaries that run on even now into some undefined future “American identity,” compiled of bliss and tragedy. The continued security and vitality of our dawning post-Imperial century is wholly dependent upon the extent to which we recognize and acclaim the polyvocal murmur of those streams’ convergence.

Juan Felipe Herrera is a poet that recognizes not only these truths but the more subtle one that underlies their obscurity, which is, simply stated, that until relatively recently most official outlets of literary production and publicity represented views that were either indifferent or hostile to that plurality of voices straining so hard to be heard from far flung corners of the nation. Despite its many shortcomings, the Internet has helped to change this state of affairs permanently and for the better. Lest we forget too soon, though, small independent publishers like City Lights have been doing their part for decades to facilitate the expression of an American identity that acknowledges its historical dimension and incorporates far more perspectives than just those of the Western Europeans who, however briefly, once composed the nation’s dominant tone.

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2015 National Poetry Month Playlist

National Poetry Month is this month. You now have permission to take an hour off of work today to listen to this poetry playlist featuring City Lights authors past and present.

City Lights is publishing 3 poetry books in the month of April.

Two-Way Mirror: A Poetry Notebook by David Meltzer

Women in Public by Elaine Kahn (City Lights Spotlight #13)

On Time: Poems 2005-2014 by Joanne Kyger.

We’re also celebrating these books with the following events:

David Meltzer presents Two-Way Mirror at City Lights on Wednesday, April 8. Joanne Kyger celebrates the release of On Time at the SF Public Library on April 14 with special guest Bill Berkson. Audio for Elaine Kahn’s book release party can be found here at the City Lights Podcast site or on iTunes.

1. Video and performance of Lenelle Moïse reading the title poem from Haiti Glass:

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