Tuesday, May 03, 2011

San Francisco Fifty Years Ago (Kenneth Rexroth’s complete columns for the San Francisco Examiner)


In January 1960 the San Francisco Examiner (a Hearst newspaper) offered Kenneth Rexroth a job writing a weekly column. He accepted. By May 1961 the column had proved popular enough that he was asked to do two and sometimes even three per week.

The association was an odd one. Although Rexroth was by that time a well-known figure in the Bay Area, he was known primarily as a political and cultural radical, and even (somewhat misleadingly) as “the godfather of the Beat Generation.” But he was willing to work for the Examiner as long as they gave him complete freedom to write whatever he wanted. They did so until July 1967, when they fired him after he wrote a particularly scathing article about the American police.

All told, Rexroth wrote approximately 700 columns for the Examiner. I am tentatively planning to post all of them fifty years after their original appearance. If all goes well and don’t get OD’d with the project, it will be completed on June 22, 2017.

Normally I plan to post each column on the exact 50th anniversary of its original appearance. This means that during the upcoming year you can expect to find a new column here every Saturday. (Occasionally, depending on my schedule, I may post it a few days early or late.)

Needless to say, the columns vary widely in topic and interest. Some offer incisive commentary that remains astonishingly relevant on all sorts of general issues, social, political, cultural, urbanistic or ecological. Others are more dated, such as reviews of particular musical or theatrical performances. I think you will find, however, that his remarks about even the most ephemeral topics are full of amusing observations and perceptive insights, and that the ensemble constitutes a unique and fascinating chronicle of those eventful years.

I have silently corrected obvious typos, added an occasional comma that seems to be necessary to make the sense clear, and taken the liberty of composing new titles (the original titles were composed by Examiner editors and often do not give a very good idea of what Rexroth is actually talking about).

The contents are listed above. (In a few cases I have added additional information in brackets.) As a preview of things to come, you can also explore my earlier selection of some of the more interesting columns: Rexroth’s San Francisco.

Ken Knabb
February 2010


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