The Six Gallery, located at 3119 Fillmore Street in San Francisco, was founded by Wally Hedrick, Deborah Remington, John Ryan, Jack Spicer, Hayward King, and David Simpson in 1954. The space was previously known as the King Ubu Gallery, and was founded by Jess Collins, Robert Duncan, and Harry Jacobus in 1952. Before its association with art and poetry, it was an auto repair shop.
The Six Gallery reading was an important poetry event that took place on Friday, October 7, 1955. Conceived by Wally Hedrick, this event was the first important public manifestation of the Beat Generation and helped to herald the West Coast literary revolution that continued the San Francisco Renaissance.
At the reading, five talented young poets—Allen Ginsberg, Philip Lamantia, Michael McClure, Gary Snyder, and Philip Whalen—who until then were known mainly within a close company of friends and other writers (such as Lionel Trilling and William Carlos Williams), presented some of their latest works. They were introduced by Kenneth Rexroth, a San Francisco poet of an older generation, who was a kind of literary father-figure for the younger poets and had helped to establish their burgeoning community through personal introductions at his weekly salon.
Lamantia read poems by his dead friend John Hoffman. McClure read “Point Lobos Animism” and “For the Death of 100 Whales”; Snyder, “A Berry Feast”; and Whalen, “Plus Ca Change.” Most famously, it was at this reading that Allen Ginsberg first presented his poem “Howl”.
Hedrick, a painter and veteran of the Korean War, approached Ginsberg in the summer of 1955 and asked him to organize a poetry reading at the Six Gallery. At first, Ginsberg refused. But once he’d written a rough draft of “Howl”, he changed his “fucking mind,” as he put it. The large and exuberant audience included a drunken Jack Kerouac, who refused to read his own work but cheered the other poets on, shouting “Yeah! Go! Go!” during their performances. Still, Kerouac was able to recall much of what occurred at the reading, and wrote an account that he included in his novel The Dharma Bums.
Also in attendance was Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who telegrammed Ginsberg the following day offering to publish his work.