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Richard O. Moore (1920-2015)

Poet and filmmaker Richard O. Moore—a co-founder of KPFA and KQED—died peacefully of natural causes Wednesday, March 25, at his home at The Redwoods in Mill Valley, CA. He was 95 years old. Though best known as an early documentary filmmaker for public television, Moore considered himself a poet first and foremost. His first book, Writing the Silences, appeared from the University of California Press in 2010 while his second book, Particulars of Place, will be published in April by Omnidawn.

Born in Ohio in 1920, Moore lost his mother to tuberculosis and was left in foster care in Los Angeles in the early ’30s as his father sought work during the Depression. Sent to the University of California, Berkeley, in 1939, Moore was eventually expelled for his participation in pacifist anti-war protests, though he was later allowed back to complete his B.A. During this period, he became a member of the original circle of anarchist poets around Kenneth Rexroth—including Robert Duncan, Jack Spicer, Philip Lamantia, William Everson, Madeline Gleason, James Broughton, and Thomas Parkinson—the beginning of what is now known as the San Francisco Renaissance. At the time he was employed as a ballet dancer and the studio in which he lived served as the meeting place for Rexroth’s “Libertarian” (read, anarchist) group.

By 1949, Moore had given up dance for broadcasting, co-founding with his friend Lewis Hill and then-partner Eleanor McKinney, the first public radio station in the U.S., KPFA. Though he would leave the station in 1952 over political disagreements, Moore found himself back in broadcasting two years later, as an early member of the public television station, KQED. In 1960, he accepted a CBS fellowship to Columbia University and began a lifelong interest in the philosophy of Ludwig Wittgenstein.

After his return to KQED, he formed the KQED Film Unit with Philip Greene and Irving Saraf and directed a series of cinema vérité-style documentaries for PBS precursor National Educational Television. Among the films he wrote and directed at this time are Louisiana Diary (1963), concerning a CORE voter registration drive for African Americans in Plaquemine, LA; Take This Hammer (1964), examining racial tensions in San Francisco and featuring James Baldwin; Report from Cuba (1966), looking at Fidel Castro and the Cuban Revolution; and the ten-part series USA: Poetry (1966), famous for including the only sound footage of Frank O’Hara, and profiling everyone from Lawrence Ferlinghetti and John Ashbery to Anne Sexton and Louis Zukofsky. After forming his own production company, PTV, Inc., in the ’70s, he would return to literary themes with his series The Writer in America (1975), profiling such writers as Toni Morrison and Eudora Welty. Subjects for other films included Duke Ellington, Dorothea Lange, Elijah Muhammad, and Darius Milhaud.

During the 1980s, Moore worked as president and CEO of Twin Cities Public Television in St. Paul, Minnesota. Retiring in 1990, Moore and his wife Ruth returned to Northern California, living in Point Arena. Having continued to write poetry long after he stopped publishing it, Moore was eventually discovered at a Squaw Valley Writers Conference by Brenda Hillman, though it would be several years before she learned of his connection to the San Francisco Renaissance. This was the beginning of his return to the poetry world, bolstered by the publication of his selected poems, Writing the Silences, edited by Hillman and Paul Ebenkamp, by the University of California Press in 2010. A second volume, Particulars of Place, edited by Hillman, Ebenkamp, and Garrett Caples, with an introduction by Cedar Sigo, is scheduled to appear in April from Omnidawn and is largely composed of poems written after his first book. His poems have appeared in many literary journals, including Poetry, Volt, Redwood Coast Review, and Amerarcana. He also privately published a number of chapbooks including A Selection for Ruth (1997), China Diary (2012), Outcry (2014), and In Passing (2015).

In his introduction to Particulars of Place, Sigo writes “What I find most commendable about the USA: Poetry series is Richard’s choice to showcase so many heroes of the queer underground and without a trace of tokenism. His mindset dates extremely well. One would be hard-pressed to find another man so unencumbered by social divisions.” This remarks extends to Moore’s films on African American and revolutionary subjects, as well as to the political thrust of his poetry. Moore’s work in both media displays a clear predilection for the underdog and a commitment to social justice that amounted to a passion. Even late in life, Moore remained true to his pacifist and anarchist roots and he could be found regularly at the weekly protest against the U.S.’s recent wars in the Middle East staged by Seniors for Peace on the sidewalk in front of The Redwoods.

Moore was preceded in death by his wife Ruth in 1997. He is survived by his daughter Flinn Moore Rauck and her husband John Rauck; son David Moore and his wife Kathryn Shanley; daughter Lisa Moore Nardini and her husband Paulo Nardini; son Michael Moore and his wife Janet Tumpich; son Anthony Moore and his fiancee Mary Thorsen; son Aran Moore and his wife Denise Lamott; grandchildren Daniel Rauck, Briannon Siv and her husband Tyty Siv, Caleb Moore, Matteo Nardini, Luca Nardini, Bianca Nardini, Kirsten Moore, Maxx Moore, Jackson Moore, Austin Moore; and great-grandchildren Demetrius and Genevieve Rauck and Sophie and Hannah Siv.x

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