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Voices from the Underground: Insider Histories of the Vietnam Era Underground Press

To learn about Ken’s celebrated revised, expanded four-volume second edition, see here.

Voices from the Underground: Insider Histories of the Vietnam Era Underground Press (volume one of a two-volume set), edited by Ken Wachsberger, is a collection of histories of individual underground papers from the Vietnam era as written and told by key members on the papers at the time. Their stories, along with representational writings from the period, represent the countercultural, gay, lesbian, feminist, Puerto Rican, black, socialist, Southern consciousness, prisoners' rights, new age, student, and military antiwar voices of the age. Forewords are by Abe Peck and William M. Kunstler.

A sampling of stories:

Patrick Halley tells for the first time about the time he pied the Guru Maharaj Ji, the 15-year old perfect master hustler, and about the steel plate he still wears in his head to this day as a result of the beating he got from the kid's bodyguards.

Marilyn Webb recalls the first year of off our backs, the first national feminist paper to emerge on the east coast.

Allen Cohen tells about the history of Haight-Ashbury through his history of The Oracle, the premier psychedelic underground paper of the period.

John Woodford tells his riches-to-rags story of how he went from being an editor at Ebony, the highest-circulation publication for a black readership, to being editor of Muhammad Speaks, the Black Muslim paper, immediately after Elijah Muhammad expelled Malcolm X.

Charley Shively recalls the 1969 police raid on the Stonewall Bar in New York City where "instead of going quietly into the waiting vans, the motley crowd of queers and queens attacked the police," inspiring an emergent, nationwide gay and lesbian liberation movement, along with a whole network of Gay Liberation Front papers, including Boston's Fag Rag.

Jonina Abron begins her story about the Black Panther newspaper upon the stage where she was a speaker at Huey Newton's funeral.

And Mica Kindman. Michael Kindman came to Michigan State University in the mid-1960s as one of the crop of National Merit Scholars who had been recruited by President John Hannah to bring respectability and status to the country's first land-grant college. In the midst of the anti-Vietnam War fervor of the period, at a time when Michael was in line to become editor-in-chief of the State News, he dropped out of college and founded The Paper, one of the first five members of Underground Press Syndicate, which was the first nationwide network of underground papers. Later, he moved to Boston to work on a respected underground paper called Avatar, little knowing that the community that published Avatar was a personality cult run by a power freak named Mel Lyman. By the time Michael was able to free himself from the psychological clutches of the cult, he had escaped to San Francisco, come out as a gay man, and changed his name to Mica. The entire two years that editor-in-chief Ken Wachsberger worked with Mica on his story, Mica was dying of AIDS. He died two months after finishing his story.

These stories and many more bring to life the antiwar Movement of the Vietnam era as remembered by the chroniclers of the period in Voices from the Underground.

Voices from the Underground is the product of Ken's experiences in the early seventies when he traveled the country, mostly hitchhiking; organized against the Vietnam War; followed and led his generation in and out of jails; and worked on underground papers everywhere he went. "If I had known my travels would become background material for a book, I'd have saved my receipts," he laments. Ken's home base during that period was East Lansing-Lansing, Michigan, as one of the guiding forces behind Joint Issue, the local area underground paper. His story appeared first in three parts in the Lansing Star, the successor to Joint Issue, in 1976 and later became the prototype article for Voices from the Underground. After determining the papers he wanted to appear in the collection (based on his travels during the period and extensive research in the Michigan State University Special Collections Library and Hatcher Library at University of Michigan) and then tracking down the key individuals, he shared his story with them and said, "Make yours better" (which does not mean necessarily that his is the worst piece in the book).

The strength of the underground press was not that it produced a few well-known papers but that it was everywhere. Ken's goal was to capture the essence of what was known as the countercultural community. As ample reviews and testimonials loudly proclaimed when it was first released in 1993, he succeeded:

"comes closer than anything I've yet read to putting the sights, sounds and texture of the '60s on paper."— Los Angeles Times

"…the most important book on American journalism published in my lifetime."—In These Times

"The period of the late sixties and early seventies was a high water mark for American journalism. For the first time in American history, the vision of Justices Holmes and Brandeis blossomed and bore fruit. A multitude of voices, the essence of democracy, resounded through the land providing a compelling alternative against the stifling banality of the establishment press. What this nation had during the Vietnam War was exactly what the founding fathers understood the press to be all about when they wrote the First Amendment. You are to be congratulated on making a significant contribution to American journalism. I recommend that anyone who truly cares about the nation's press buy a copy and explore with your writers what journalism was really like when the alternative press flourished."—Art Levin, chair, department of journalism, Butler University

"We live in a country that is free, but with an ideological system of astonishingly narrow scope and rigidity, a fact that has led to many efforts to find alternative modes of expression. The publication of Voices from the Underground is a welcome contribution to the process of seeking ways to democratize and invest formal freedom with real meaning."—Noam Chomsky, institute professor of linguistics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

"Voices from the Underground allows 'the people who were there' to document the role of the underground and countercultural press in the development of political consciousness in the 1960s and 1970s. In their own words and styles, editors and writers offer insights that scholars and students will find indispensable to the next wave of analytical writing on this important period. This is the volume for scholars who want to teach their students about the sixties and the underground press."—Barbara L. Tischler, assistant dean of student affairs, Columbia University School of General Studies, and editor of Perspectives on the Sixties

"At a time when some 70 percent of Americans get all their news from network TV, with its constant diet of power elite supplied 'sound bites,' and when Third World bashing, at home and abroad, has become endemic, it is most appropriate that attention be drawn to the very vital role played by the underground and alternative press in the 60s and 70s….Voices from the Underground is an important guide and an inspiration for young journalism students and others who recognize the need for a media of integrity, commitment, depth, and truth; a media committed to the propagation of universal human value."—David G. Du Bois, president, W.E.B. Du Bois Foundation, and visiting professor of journalism/Afro American studies, University of Massachusetts

"Voices from the Underground captures the passion and the promises of one of the most creative organs of the Vietnam Era. In the pages of the alternative papers, activists analyzed everything, argued over strategies, and created visions of how society might be. These two volumes of participant reflections and resource directories provide a vital resource for women's studies by presenting vividly the context in which '60s feminism emerged in the U.S. culture and politics."—Charlotte Bunch, author of Passionate Politics: Feminist Theory in Action, co-founder of D.C. Women's Liberation Movement and director of the Center for Women's Global Leadership at Douglass College, Rutgers University

"That crucial period in American social history called the '60s already is in danger of being distorted and trivialized in scholarship and journalism based on establishment media. Voices from the Underground rescues for us the primary sources and living texture of the publications that emerged from the protest movement of the Vietnam War Era. This two-volume set should be an invaluable tool for all of us in the future and a stimulus for libraries to save the primary publications."—Ben Bagdikian, former dean of the Graduate School of Journalism, University of California at Berkeley

"The true brief shining moment in American press history was the 1960s' voices of liberation as reflected in the grassroots press of the day. Ken Wachsberger has brought together a collection of outstanding memoirs of that age in Voices from the Underground: all the more important today when the shining has tarnished and the word 'liberation' is lost in the wind."—Barbara Grier, author of The Lesbian in Literature, CEO of Naiad Press, and former editor/publisher of The Ladder

"…and it's fun."—The Progressive

To learn more about why Voices from the Underground went out of print so soon after publication, and to take part in its upcoming republication, contact info@azenphonypress.com.

Temporarily out of print ISBN: 1-87946-101-3 underground press, dissidence Back to Our Books

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