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At the age of 22, Michael McClure gave his first poetry reading at the legendary Six Gallery event in San Francisco, where Allen Ginsberg first read Howl. One of the last remaining Beat poets, Michael McClure was closely associated with both Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac and appears as the character Pat McLear in Kerouac’s novel Big Sur. McClure also served as a poetry mentor to both Bob Dylan and Jim Morrison of The Doors, introducing these artists to the work of Rimbaud and Blake. He is featured in Scorcese’s film The Last Waltz. McClure’s songs include Janis Joplin’s beloved "Mercedes Benz".

The author of dozens of books of poetry, McClure read with an actor’s command and a singer’s timing, “transporting audiences to a very different and intriguing place.” McClure also performed regularly with The Doors’ keyboardist Ray Manzarek, with whom he recorded two albums.

On January 14, 1967, McClure read at the epochal Human Be-In event in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco and transcended his earlier identity to become an important member of the 1960s hippie counterculture. Barry Miles famously referred to McClure as "the prince of the San Francisco scene.

McClure would later court controversy as a playwright with his play The Beard. The play tells of a fictional encounter in the blue velvet of eternity between Billy the Kid and Jean Harlow and is a theatrical exploration of his "Meat Politics" theory, in which all human beings are "bags of meat".

McClure's other plays include Josephine The Mouse Singer and VKTMS. He had an eleven-year run as playwright-in-residence with San Francisco's Magic Theatre where his operetta "Minnie Mouse and the Tap-Dancing Buddha" had an extended run. He made two television documentaries – The Maze and September Blackberries – and was featured in several films, including Martin Scorsese's The Last Waltz (1978), where he recites from The Canterbury Tales; Norman Mailer's Beyond the Law (1968); and, most prominently, Peter Fonda's The Hired Hand (1971).

In addition to poetry, McClure published books of essays and two novels and created twenty plays and musicals, for which he received several Obie Awards. His journalism was featured in Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair, the L.A. Times and the San Francisco Chronicle. A Professor Emeritus of California College of the Arts, Michael McClure’s travelled widely and lived in the San Francisco Bay Area hills with his wife, sculptor Amy Evans McClure.