Michael McClure

Michael McClure is a poet, playwright and novelist known for his participation in San Francisco’s infamous Six Gallery poetry reading.


Born on October 20, 1932, in Marysville, Kansas, Michael McClure took part in San Francisco's infamous Six Gallery poetry reading. As a figure in the Beat movement, he continued to write poetry and plays. His 1965 production The Beard faced obscenity charges, which were eventually dismissed by the Supreme Court. McClure has befriended musicians, including the Doors' Jim Morrison and Ray Manzarek.

Early Life

Michael McClure was born in Marysville, Kansas, on October 20, 1932. His parents divorced when he was 5, and he was raised in both Marysville and Seattle. McClure studied at the University of Wichita, the University of Arizona and San Francisco State College, where he received his B.A. in 1955.

Poetry Readings

When he was 22 years old, McClure took part in San Francisco's infamous Six Gallery poetry reading, the event at which Allen Ginsberg first publicly read "Howl." McClure read his poem "For the Death of 100 Whales," which condemned an incident during which bored American soldiers stationed at a NATO base in Iceland and armed with machine guns killed a pod of whales. The audience at the reading included Neal Cassady and a drunken Jack Kerouac, who would later immortalize the event in his 1958 novel, The Dharma Bums. The reading is often credited as the birth of the Beat movement.

After the Six Gallery event, McClure continued to read his poetry on a regular basis. In 1967 he read to more than 20,000 people at San Francisco's Golden Gate Park during Human Be-In, Woodstock's predecessor, an event that also featured a performance by the Grateful Dead.

'The Beard'

In 1965, McClure wrote the play The Beard, about an imagined erotic exchange between Billy the Kid, a violent bad boy, and Jean Harlow, a beautiful movie star. The San Francisco Actor's Workshop staged the play, and following one performance, its two actors were arrested and held in jail overnight on obscenity charges. An upset audience member present during the performance also punched McClure in the face. The Supreme Court eventually dismissed the charges in 1967.

Musical Collaboration

In addition to its critics, The Beard garnered many fans, including Jim Morrison of the Doors, with whom McClure became good friends. McClure encouraged Morrison's poetry writing, and the two gave readings together, in addition to drinking and doing drugs. Prior to Morrison's death, they collaborated on a film script titled Saint Nicholas, which was based on one of McClure's unpublished novels, The Adept.

McClure is also a close friend of Ray Manzarek, keyboardist of the Doors, and the two often perform together, improvising with piano and voice. They have released several albums of their collaborations. McClure songwriting credits also include "Mercedes Benz," a song made popular by Janis Joplin.


McClure continues to write poetry. His style and subject matter reflect his Buddhist practice and show an appreciation for the natural world. McClure has also published several novels, including 1970's The Mad Cub, which he describes as an autobiography. He has penned musicals, TV documentaries and essay collections, and has also been honored with an Obie Award for best play, a fellowship from the Guggenheim Foundation and, in 1993, a lifetime achievement award in poetry from the National Poetry Association. McClure currently resides in Oakland with his wife, sculptor Amy Evans McClure.

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