Shigeyoshi Murao (1926-1999), ‘Shig’, was a true pleasure to research and write about. In the heart of the San Francisco Renaissance of the late 50’s and into the 60’s, City Lights Bookstore was both outpost and base of operations for so many of the creative minds of that era. Owned by Lawrence Ferlinghetti (1919-2021), the bookstore remains a San Francisco landmark today. As the City Lights manager, Shig was one of the less heralded but also very important connectors in the creative fabric of that era. 

Shig Murao – photographer unknown.

Tom Wolfe somewhat immortalized him with this description from The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test: “the Nipponese panjandrum of the place, sat glowering with beard hanging down like those strands of furze and fern in an architect’s drawing, drooping over the volumes by the cash register.” 

Wolfe was correct in that Shig was an ever-present element of the bookstore and the scene for years. But his description does not apprehend the importance Shig played in that amazing creative mélange that was San Francisco in the 50’s and 60’s. 

As I researched this book, I came across his name in connection with the Howl obscenity trial of 1957. His personal story in turn shaped Kats’ story which means it shaped the entire book. Shig and his family were interned at the Minidoka Relocation Camp in Idaho. That led me to connect Shig and Kats at Minidoka. The friendships that were born from the shared experiences of camp, were deep and lifelong. My father’s two best friends were from camp where they met as teenagers. Kats and Shig are connected forever because of their experience together in camp and I wanted to make that friendship a central part of the story. And I loved writing Shig’s character. The more I wrote about him, the more I read about him, the more I knew he had to be an important part of Kats’ life and this story. I look forward to his continued companionship in future stories!

Shig was also part of the Military Intelligence Service during World War 2.

This is a great online archive of Shig’s life and work