Jack Hirschman Biography

Jack Hirschman




Poet, painter, and educator Jack Hirschman was born in New York City, New York, on Dember 13, 1933. The polymath with a penchant for languages earned his B.A. from City College of New York, supporting himself by working the graveyard shift as a copyeditor for the Associated Press. The 19 year-old aspiring writer sent a story to Ernest Hemingway, whose praiseful and honest response would later become famous when it was published internationally as Letter to a Young Writer upon Hemingway's deathIn 1953 he self-published a poem, Fragments, at a small press near his job in an edition of 75. After marriage to Ruth Epstein in 1954 and graduation from City College in 1955, Hirschman earned his M.A. in English Literature (1957) and Ph.D. in Comparative Literature (1959) from Indiana University. In 1960 his first volume of poetry A Correspondence of Americans was published by the University's press.

Hirschman spent some years teaching at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire before taking up a position at the University of California, Los Angeles, in the 1960s, teaching writing and poetry, and often engaging in leftist political discussions with his cohort (among his students was Jim Morrison of The Doors). After encouraging his students to resist the draft into Vietnam in 1966, he was fired from the school; soon thereafter his marriage fell apart. This spurred his relocation to San Francisco in 1973 where he would remain for the rest of his life. 

Hirschman soon became a fixture in the North Beach neighborhood as both a poet and an activist and would frequent Caffe Trieste, Vesuvio's, and City Lights Bookstore, the famed haunts of many Beat and Bohemian artists that Hirschman admired and mingled with. He was also a painter and collagist, frequently combining his love of visual art with his poetry by making his own books. He also worked as an editor and a translator of Russian, German, French, Italian, Greek, Spanish, Albanian, Yiddish, Vietnamese, and Creole. In 2006 he was appointed 4th Poet Laureate of San Francisco by governor Gavin Newsom.

Hirschman remained active as a poet and artist until his death on August 13, 2021. An in-depth chronology of his life can be found here