Michael McClure, famed poet who helped ignite the Beat Generation, dies at 87

Michael McClure in 2010 on his deck with sculptures by his wife, artist Amy Evans McClure, at their home in Oakland.
(Paul Chinn / San Francisco Chronicle )

Michael McClure, one of the famed Beat poets of San Francisco whose career as a poet eclipsed many of his counterculture contemporaries in popular culture, has died. He was 87.

McClure died Monday in Oakland, after suffering a stroke last year, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

A then-22-year-old McClure helped organize the famous Six Gallery reading of Beat poets on Oct. 7, 1955, and later read at the Human Be-In at Golden Gate Park that launched the Summer of Love in 1967 and at the Band’s “Last Waltz” concert at Winterland in 1976.


“Without the roar of McClure, there would have been no ’60s,” the late actor Dennis Hopper once said.

In McClure’s 1982 nonfiction account of the Six Gallery reading, “Scratching the Surface of the Beats,” he describes the mid-1950s genesis of the artistic revolution that was to follow.

“The world that we tremblingly stepped out into in that decade was a bitter, gray one,” he wrote. “We saw that the art of poetry was essentially dead — killed by war, by academies, by neglect, by lack of love, and by disinterest. We knew we could bring it back to life.”

His first reading in 1955 was overshadowed by the introduction of “Howl,” the groundbreaking poem by Allen Ginsberg. But McClure outlasted nearly all the Beats in a career that spanned more than 60 years, publishing more than 30 books of poetry, plays, novels and anthologies until 2017. He toured the United States, Mexico and Japan with Ray Manzarek of the Doors. He also was a professor of poetry at California College of the Arts for 43 years.

“Michael was incredibly gracious, erudite, and totally dedicated to the poet’s calling,” said Elaine Katzenberger, publisher of City Lights, which published McClure’s works dating to 1963.

“He was a sometimes-trickster, most definitely a provocateur, and yet, quite solicitous and patient, a sage who was beautiful inside and out.”