The Beats and Underground Newspapers of the 1960s

The Sixties were one of the most turbulent times in American history. As the Baby Boomers came of age, underground newspapers were born with a focus on political and cultural topics the conventional press was ignoring. The antiwar movement, the sexual revolution, gay liberation, and the drug culture became the everyday focus for this burgeoning underground. By 1966 the Underground Press Syndicate (UPS) was formed with early members including the Berkeley Barb and the Los Angeles Free Press. By 1967 San Francisco’s own Oracle hosted the first UPS gathering with some thirty people in attendance. By 1971 there were over 270 such newspapers around the country with the UPS being run by Tom Forcade who three years later founded High Times magazine.

One of those underground newspapers that many people in New York would remember was published between 1968 and 1970 and was called the Rat Subterranean News. Editor Jeff Shero was friends with both Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs. Burroughs, especially, submitted a fair amount of work to The Rat. In the following two videos Shero discusses the history of The Rat and the effort to digitize it for future generations as well as his relationship with William Burroughs and Burroughs’ contributions to the paper.

Jeff Shero discusses the history of Rat Underground News (3 minutes)

Jeff Shero discusses William S. Burroughs (6 minutes)