Smoking Typewriters: The Sixties Underground Press and the Rise of Alternative Media


“John McMillian’s new book, ‘Smoking Typewriters: The Sixties Underground Press and the Rise of Alternative Media in America,’ is a lively account of an oft-overlooked aspect of the anti-war movement: the hundreds of radical underground newspapers that proliferated—and then promptly disappeared—between 1964 and 1973. ‘These papers educated and politicized young people, helped to shore up activist communities, and were the movement’s primary means of internal communication,’ McMillian says. A professor at Georgia State University and a founding editor of The Sixties: A Journal of History, Politics and Culture, McMillian is currently working on his next book, which will chronicle the rivalry between the Rolling Stones and the Beatles. An edited version of our conversation appears below. Why the underground press? I’d always had a strong layperson’s interest in the sixties, going all the way back to high school: Abbie Hoffman, Ken Kesey, the Black Panthers, that sort of thing. And then I noticed that a few scholars who were just a bit older than myself were getting a bit of attention for becoming some of the first historians to write about the sixties without having had any real firsthand experience with the decade; until then, the most influential writing on the sixties had been accomplished by baby boomers. They convinced me of the great need for scholarly work in this field. And so I started reading underground newspapers, simply to get a feel for what radical youths in that decade were doing and thinking. … Just so people understand, the underground press was a vast network of loosely affiliated, very radical tabloid newspapers. The ‘underground’ label was always a bit of a misnomer. Unlike, say, the covert and highly illegal newspapers attacking the occupation of France and the Netherlands during the Second World War, the vast majority of radical papers produced during the Vietnam War Era circulated openly. The ‘underground’ moniker arose because some of the first of them—the Los Angeles Free Press, the Berkeley Barb, and New York City’s East Village Other—appealed to self-styled cultural outlaws. Many of these papers, however, could seem genuinely subversive, openly flouting society’s conventions and, by the late sixties, championing the revolutionary overthrow of the U.S. government. …”
New Yorker – Ask an Academic: The Sixties Underground Press
WIRED – Smoking Typewriters: The Sixties Underground Press and the Rise of Alternative Media in America
amazon
W – Underground press

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