“Soon after Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Peter Martin opened the City Lights Pocket Book Shop in 1953, they hired Shigeyoshi “Shig” Murao as their first clerk. Shig was young and charismatic, with an infectious geniality that became as integral a part of the bookstore’s culture as the paperbound volumes on its shelves.
“Shig Murao was born in Seattle in 1926. In 1942, after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, he and his family were sent to a Japanese internment camp in Idaho. Afterward, he joined the Military Intelligence Service, and worked as a translator in postwar Japan.
“Shig Murao hired your editor V. Vale at City Lights; City Lights was the address for SEARCH & DESTROY Magazine; RE/Search was the REvised Editorial Project of V. Vale, who writes this newsletter!
“Although Shig was not himself a poet, he became a fixture in the North Beach Beat scene. He could frequently be found at the Caffe Trieste surrounded by his many friends, who included Allen Ginsberg, Michael McClure, Bob Kaufman, Philip Lamantia, Richard Brautigan, Gary Snyder. Ginsberg would often stay at Shig’s apartment on Grant Ave. when visiting San Francisco. Shig collected poems, collages, flyers, photos, and various other material from his Beat colleagues, and sporadically published the material in an eclectic zine called Shig’s Review. He would make about 20-30 copies of each at the nearest photocopy shop, then walk over to the Trieste and distribute them amongst his friends. He published about 80 [?] editions of his Review.
“On June 3, 1957 (coincidentally Ginsberg’s birthday), Shig was arrested for selling an ‘obscene’ book to an undercover police officer. The book was HOWL and Other Poems by Allen Ginsberg, and according to Captain Hanrahan of the SFPD, was only the first in a long list of books the department had deemed objectionable. Ferlinghetti was arrested for having published the book shortly thereafter, and the trial that ensued was among the defining battles of the free speech movement.”
In ShigMurao.org, Richard Reynolds writes, “Even so, Shig is in danger of being written out of the history of City Lights and of the San Francisco Beat era. When Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman made their film of the trial in 2010, for instance, Shig was nowhere to be seen. Yet at the trial itself, Shig and Lawrence Ferlinghetti were codefendants and sat next to each other throughout the proceedings.”