This blog is in memory of your friend, my Father.
Please feel free to send me your memories, anecdotes, pictures and eulogies for posting.
Remember, you are Voices Of Change. Voice the changes you want to see and it shall be.
Thank you.
In Loving Memory, Stephen

Please support Robert McDowell's KickStarter campaign to produce a DVD documentary--conversations with George Hitchcock, legendary poet, editor of Kayak, painter, sculptor, actor, director, playwright, mentor/teacher, Emeritus Professor at UC Santa Cruz, novelist and extraordinary raconteur. George was one-of-a-kind. He lived life large, and his story is amazing. Please go to and give what you can.

"I gladly acknowledge a considerable debt to George Hitchcock and Kayak. He dealt with me kindly and generously, and I had the pleasure of his company several times. I even gave a reading with him, once -- in, I think, Lexington, Kentucky. George read first, and I read second. It was impossible. George read his poems from loose sheets and threw them over his shoulder as he finished with them. By the time he was done, the show was over. To follow him, I needed to be a talking dog." ~ Wendell Berry

A GENEROUS REBEL: A Brief Bio from Northwest Review

George Hitchcock: A Generous Rebel

An Article by Cecelia Hagen for the Northwest Review; September 22, 2008

"By character and ancestry I have always been a rebel," George has written. Although he didn't elaborate in that 1978 article on kayak in TriQuarterly,(1) the facts back him up. George's maternal great-great-grandfather, United States Senator John Henderson (1797-1857) of Mississippi, had a reputation for being a radical. The senator's son worked as an attorney in New Orleans and was murdered there in 1866 for being an abolitionist. Within a decade of his father's murder, George's maternal grandfather, Louis F. Henderson, (2) moved west. In 1880, he became the first white man to scale North Sister in the Cascade Mountains. He worked as a teacher, but took trips into the wilds to collect botanical specimens every chance he got. Even with a wife and two small daughters (one of whom would become George's mother) at home, he would regularly rush back from work on Friday, "jump a train" that evening, and travel to some remote part of Oregon. At the age of 40, Henderson became the first professor of botany at the University of Idaho. He was invited to be curator of the new University of Oregon Herbarium in Eugene when he was 71 and held that position for 15 years. George remembers going on specimen-collecting trips with his grandfather, climbing mountains, walking from one of Oregon's spacious counties to another, camping out for weeks at a time, and carrying his grandfather's heavy equipment for pressing the botanical specimens they gathered.

George's mother, Constance Henderson, married Eugene lumber broker George Parks Hitchcock. Constance was, among other things, quite a horsewoman. George has told me that his mother took horses into Crater Lake for the Forest Service for several years, and that her best riding buddy in Eugene was Wayne Morse, dean of the law school and later a United States Senator. Constance and her husband divorced when George, oldest of their three children, was in his late teens. She moved to San Francisco and worked as a stringer for the International News Service. When she died in 1977 at the age of 88, her obituary in the San Francisco Chronicle referred to her as "one helluva woman." George doesn't ever say much about his father, whose family almost all died in a flu epidemic in the late 1800s. George started reading at age six and started to write adventure stories when he was about 12. When I asked what drew him to writing he said there was an assumption that he was "the resident family genius" and he felt he had to do something; writing seemed his best choice.

As a student at Eugene's University High School, George studied Latin and Spanish. "Uni High," as it was called, located on the University of Oregon campus where the music school now stands, had a reputation for being more literate than athletic. George played center on the football team, and proudly relates that his favorite tactic was "to snap the ball, then fall flat on my face and try to protect myself against fractures while the opposing team ran over me." Occasionally, during a trampling, he "could snare the shoestrings of a passing player and bring him down while lying on the greensward."

At the University of Oregon, George majored in English. His honors thesis on Milton can still be found in the UO Library. In an interview published in Durak, George stated that he supported himself during his last year in college "chiefly by playing poker." But he also worked as a cub reporter for the Eugene Morning News, which did not outlast its rival, the Eugene Register-Guard. One famous interviewee of George's was Shirley Temple and her "pushy mother" when they came through Eugene. Because it was the middle of the Depression, and because Eugene was a small town "with very little cultural life," George moved to San Francisco after graduation. He continued to work in journalism, first as a staff writer for the weekly Western Worker and then as sports editor for People's Daily World (writing under the byline "Lefty"). He wrote a few novels during these years (1934-39) but destroyed them because he was dissatisfied with them. Like his grandfather, George loved to hike and climb mountains. His friend Kenneth Rexroth (who, George says, "introduced him to contemporary poetry") taught him rappelling in the Sierras, and George invited Rexroth to contribute some articles on outdoor pursuits to the People's Daily World. (Woody Guthrie also had a column in the paper that ran under the headline "Woody Sez.")Working for left-leaning papers didn't pay much and, as "a well-known young radical," George wasn't "hirable," as he puts it, for most jobs in journalism. He got a job at American Smelting and Refining and was soon running the lead furnace where scrap metals ("mostly industrial batteries") were melted down. He describes this work as "using big long shovels--and lots of muscle."

With that factory experience under his belt, and with the U.S. moving toward wartime mobilization to defeat the rise of fascism in Europe, George moved on to a better-paying job at the Bethlehem Steel Shipyard in San Francisco. A journeyman shipfitter, George recalls helping to build warships such as the U.S.S. Reno and the U.S.S. Oakland. During this time he was also elected to be a delegate to the American Federation of Labor's Central Labor Council (because he "liked to gab," he says). Shipfitting involves working between decks, where the fumes collect. When George started getting bronchitis on a regular basis, he realized he needed to look for a different kind of work.

He joined the Merchant Marines, and a friend in the Marine Cooks and Stewards Union was kind enough to get friends to say that George was skilled as a cook and baker. After George went to school to study these trades for about six weeks that same friend, "supposedly after tasting some of my fare," advised George to ship out as something other than a cook. (George explains that you could elect to ship out as anything that had a lower pay scale than what you were trained for). He chose to ship out as an officer's waiter. Because of World War II, all passenger lines had been converted to serve in the military fleet. He traveled extensively around the Pacific, at times within range of enemy bombers. His wartime travels brought him to New Guinea, Hawaii, Australia, and the Philippines.

George says he chose to be on the bigger ships because they were valuable, which made him feel safer since "high command wasn't about to risk them." As the war in the Pacific heated up, however, a number of Merchant Marine ships were bombed and several crews lost their lives or were captured by the Japanese. George's discharge papers specify him as a combat veteran because he worked on ships that entered war zones, but George observes that his "chief instrument of torture was a pie plate."

After the war George continued his activist endeavors, serving as an organizer for the Western Dairyman's Union by giving speeches to Portuguese dairymen around Sacramento and in the central valley, "extolling the virtues of cooperative farming practices." George says that "the agitation was aimed mainly at gas and electric companies, since they were the ones gouging the farmers." After more than a year of working in the field, he started giving training sessions on Roberts' Rules of Order for union members and spent several years teaching philosophy at the California Labor School, "all perfectly peaceful, no interference from the government."

Around 1950, the Labor School got its certification under the GI Bill, which meant students could earn a bachelor's degree. "But then it came under attack as a red vehicle and lost its accreditation," George says, "and faculty had to find other work." The labor movement wanted him to help organize against the oil business, but George was starting to become active in the theater ("my first love"). Although he didn't stop being engaged in activism, learning to act was teaching him to trust the subconscious. "I began to find benefits in letting go." (3) To earn a living while acting and writing plays, George worked as a landscape gardener, a profession he would continue for 15 years.

Although he tossed out the early novels, George's nine plays (written between 1954 and 1980) remain as a testament to his broad and quirky imagination. As a playwright, director, and actor, George was a central figure in the San Francisco Renaissance ("a misnomer," he points out) of the 1950s and 60s. He was a key player in the Interplayers, then the Actor's Workshop and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, playing scores of leading roles. His booming voice and imposing presence befit the stage, and he still carries an air of theatricality about him: he wears berets and ascots, carries colorful hand-carved canes, and can (and will) portray a series of comically exaggerated emotions through facial expressions, like a silent-film star.

In 1957, George was summoned to appear before a subcommittee of the Committee on Un-American Activities. He was 43 at the time, and his answers to the nationally broadcast committee members' persistent questions are as entertaining to read as his plays. George had come to their attention because he was the chairman and chief organizer of the Independent Socialist Forum. Asked repeatedly if he is a communist, George invokes his right of free speech and declines to answer. The committee chairman reminds George: "This committee is serious business. You may think it is funny but we do not." George replies, "This hearing is a big bore and a waste of the public's money." He describes the Independent Socialist Forum to the committee as "simply a forum for discussion for people who are interested in radical ideas in the city of San Francisco to get together in public and discuss those ideas." He invites his questioners to attend a meeting. Reading the testimony, it seems almost like a lark, but the stakes were real. Some witnesses were jailed or blacklisted. Some, like Ronald Reagan, cooperated with the committee and named names of those who belonged to left-wing organizations. When I asked George if he was afraid before or during his HUAC grilling, he tells me he "was pissed off." Wasn't he even worried about jail? "I anticipated being jailed--but I was so mouthy they didn't want to talk to me anymore."

George told me he was drawn to the Communist Party "because of the miserable state of the capitalist parties." Communism "didn't live up to its promises," however, and not long after the HUAC testimony George began to turn his activist energies to small-press publishing. He co-edited the San Francisco Review between 1958 and 1963, then started kayak under his "sole dictatorship" to avoid what he calls the "tepid eclecticism" that dooms too many magazines edited by a group. (4) He once listed what he saw as the three main responsibilities of an editor who is also, as he was for 20 years, a publisher: first, "to meet his own highest artistic standards"; second, to supply his readership with good materials; and third, "very far down the scale ... the welfare of novice authors." Although most who received rejection slips from kayak remember them fondly, George took no prisoners in guarding his magazine against inferior work, noting that "patronizing other human beings, and particularly bad writers, is a crime which should be punished by immersion in boiling--well, perhaps a boiling puree of rejection slips." (5) George got into a little hot water himself in 1968, though he characteristically made the most of it. George had an invitation to attend the 10th anniversary of the Cuban revolution in Havana. He was glad to go, and even met Fidel Castro at a reception. When it came time for George to leave, however, the U.S. government blocked his return. He ended up having to stay in Cuba for a month before he was able to return to California--via Madrid and London. "A very enjoyable month, courtesy of the U.S. government," he says.

Kayak became George's primary vehicle for cultural and social change. Thirty years ago, he observed that little magazines, "by their independence and intransigence, offer a really hopeful alternative to the increasing stranglehold the corporate marketing mind has over our traditional cultural outlets." (6) As many others have remembered, even kayak 's means of production were unconventional. A friend printed the first few issues, then taught George how to do offset printing. George bought a used press that he disassembled, cleaned, and got working again. Kayak was also printed on a variety of leftover papers. One stock that had been deemed "inadequate" for its intended use as target paper by the U.S. Army was, George realized, "entirely suitable for eccentric magazine printing"--and notes that it pleased him no end to be using "leftover Army goods to disarm the Army."

Putting the magazine together was a group effort, done at the famous "collating parties" at George's house in San Francisco and, later, Santa Cruz. The move to Santa Cruz didn't signal an end to kayak, but it did mean a change of careers for George. After he had been teaching as a replacement professor at San Francisco State for a few terms, George was invited by James B. Hall (who founded the Creative Writing department at the UO, and co-founded the Northwest Review ) to teach at College V (now Porter College) at the new University of California at Santa Cruz. Starting in 1971, he taught poetry, magazine editing, playwriting, and drama, always keeping his winters free, as they were when he worked as a gardener, so that he could write poetry and, in more recent years, paint.

George's poetry is inventive and quirky, displaying his obvious delight in the world's wealth of happy accidents. His affinity for the Surrealists has always been in evidence, particularly the belief that true creativity is rooted in the subconscious. He has said, "I think rich poetry comes from rich consciousness, a fantastic subconscious and relatively good linguistic control."(7) Just scanning the titles of his 12 volumes of poetry gives you a good idea of what it's like to dive into a Hitchcock poem: The Dolphin with the Revolver in its Teeth, The Piano Beneath the Skin, A Ship of Bells, The Wounded Alphabet . His bountiful vocabulary, his solid knowledge of the classics, and his enormous sense of play combine to create a unique and memorable universe on the page.

In 2002, George established a sizeable endowment to support poetry and poetry-related activities at UCSC. The Hitchcock Poetry Fund has sponsored student scholarships, poetry conferences, helped launch a new poetry and inter-arts journal, and underwritten a number of slams, readings, residencies, and poetry-related performances. Proposals can come from any UCSC faculty, including lecturers and emeriti, and from any faculty-sponsored student group. Each spring, he and his long-term partner, the poet and editor Marjorie Simon, schedule their northbound trip to Oregon from La Paz to coincide with the meeting of the funding committee. Through this fund, George has created still another legacy of his eclectic vision.

I've visited them in La Paz, where they've spent half of each year for more than 30 years. La Paz attracted George and Marjorie because it's "a Mexican city," complete with sprawl, an attractive assortment of "el Segundo" (second-hand) shops, and warm, sunny weather. Every Saturday night, George and Marjorie host "Saturday night at the movies." About 30 people attend, and George says a bit about each movie before showing it. While they're in Eugene, George and Marjorie scour the used shelves at the video stores for good independent movies to showcase in La Paz.

Their La Paz home, like their place in Eugene, has walls that are filled with art. Most of the paintings are by George, the rest by friends. His work, done on foam board, consists of whimsical, colorful tableaus that often represent someone in the act of doing something--playing tennis, rowing a boat, bowing a cello, spinning a top. Nearly every painting George does has at least one person in it, and he seems to be telling a story through his portrayals. You can feel the energy behind the paintings, and George's predilection for the peculiar side of the ordinary.

During my most recent visit to La Paz, after George and I had talked about kayak for a while, I asked him if he ever felt that he might have written more if he hadn't devoted so much of his energy to editing. George thought for a few seconds, then said, "Oh, I probably would have, but I never worried about that." It seems that George has always sought to find an outlet for his ideas, and whether that outlet is a stage or a magazine or a canvas or a piece of paper, it's the expression that matters most, not the mode of expression. For George, it's all poetry of one form or another, and "the task of the poet is to revolutionize reality."(8) It's fortunate for those of us who enjoy his legacy that his form of revolution is so expansive, and his rebellious energy has been so generously used.

•    Louis F. Henderson (1853-1942): The Grand Old Man of Northwest Botany. Rhoda M. Love, PhD. Occasional Paper Number 2 of the Native Plant Society of Oregon, 2001.
•    Hitchcock on kayak. TriQuarterly 43, 1978. (Reprinted in One-Man Boat, Story Line Press, 2003.)
•    Interview from Durak: The International Magazine of Poetry . Issue 1, 1978.
•    Interview conducted by Robert Lloyd. (Reprinted in One-Man Boat, Story Line Press, 2003.)
•    One-Man Boat: The George Hitchcock Reader . Joseph Bednarik, Mark Jarman, and Robert McDowell, eds. Story Line Press, 2003.
•    Striking Through the Masks: A Literary Memoir . Morton Marcus. Capitola Book Company, 2008.

1.    George Hitchcock, "On kayak," TriQuarterly 43, 1978. (Reprinted in One-Man Boat, Story Line Press, 2003.)
2.    The information about George's maternal family comes from Rhoda M. Love's Louis F. Henderson (1853-1942), The Grand Old Man of Northwest Botany, Occasional Paper Number 2 of the Native Plant Society of Oregon, 2001.
3.    Robert Lloyd, "Interview with George Hitchcock," Durak: The International Magazine of Poetry, Issue 1, 1978. (Reprinted in One-Man Boat, Story Line Press, 2003.)
4.    George Hitchcock, TriQuarterly, 1978.
5.    See note 4.
6.    See note 4.
7.    Robert Lloyd, "Interview with George Hitchcock," Durak," 1978. See note 7.