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John Sinclair

The hardest working poet in the industry

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Introduction to the John & Leni Sinclair Collection E-mail
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The John and Leni Sinclair Collection (1957-present) provides a rich and unique source for the study of America's radical movement in the nineteen sixties and seventies. Beginning with a remarkable series of correspondence that includes letters from Abbie Hoffman, Allen Ginsberg, Timothy Leary, and Jerry Rubin, and co ntinuing on through extensive subject files, the collection details the cultural, political, and business activities of a man whose energy and charisma made him a local and national leader of the counterculture. In addition, the collection documents the support and creativity of his wife and partner, who as a writer, photographer and publicist helped to showcase the lifestyle which he symbolized.

John Sinclair was born October 2, 1941 in Flint, Michigan and grew up in nearby Davison where he graduated from high school in 1959. He attended Albion College (1959-61) and the University of Michigan, Flint College (1962-64), where he received an A.B. degree in American literature. In April, 1964, her entered graduate school at Wayne State University. He completed course work for an M.A. in American literature (thesis on William Burroug hs' Naked Lunch) before dropping out in the fall of 1965 to pursue his activities in the Detroit jazz and poetry community.

On November 1, 1964, shortly after his first arrest for "sales and possession of marijuana," Sinclair founded (with his partner Leni Arndt, poet/film-maker Robin Eichele, trumpeter Charles Moore and twelve others) the Detroit Artists' Workshop, which was a local attempt in self determination for artists of all disciplines. During 1964-1967, under the auspices of the Artists' Workshop and its campus counterpart, the Wayne State University Artists' Society (which he also originated), Sinclair produced coun tless jazz concerts and poetry readings featuring Detroit talent. He helped organize the Detroit Contemporary 4, the Workshop Arts Quartet and the Workshop Music Ensemble, and experimental group for which he also composed original music. Together with Robin Eichele, George Tysh and Jim Semark he founded (1964) and co-directed the Artists' Workshop Press which publis hed a series of books, magazines, and free sheets by Detroit poets and writers, including his own This is Our Music (1965), Fire Music; a record (1966), The Poem for Warner Stringfellow (1966), and Meditations: a suite for John Coltrane (1967). 0 Sinclair served as editor of the Artists' Worksheet newsletter (1965), the poetry magazine Work, (1965-1967), the "avant-jazz" magazine Change (1965-66), and (with Ron Caplan) the magazine Whe're (1966) all printed at the Artists' Workshop P ress. Sinclair was also music editor and columnist (1965-68) for Detroit's Fifth Estate newspaper, one of the original five members of the Underground Press Syndicate (UPS), and fo unded and edited (with Allen Van Newkirk) the first issues of Guerrilla (1966-67), a newspaper of cultural revolution. His other editorial responsibilities in the areas of musi c and/or poetry-literature included those with Spero (Chicago, 1963-65), Art & Artists (Detroit, 1964-65) and New University Thought (1965). A very prolific writer as well, Sinclair served as local correspondent for Downbeat (1964-65) and Jazz (New York) magazines, and had his article, reviews and poetry appear in numerous other publication besides those he edited, including; American Poet, Camels Coming, Coda, Connections, El Corno Emplumade, Incense, island, Jazz (Warsaw), The Journal, Kaleidoscope, Ku lchur, Latitudes, Magazine, Move, New Lantern, Club Review, Orpheus, Other Scenes, Out of Sight, the Paper (Lansing), Poetmeat, San Francisco Oracle, Seed, Sounds (Germany), and Sounds & Fury. In July 1965, he read his works at the Berkeley Poetry Confer ence along with Ed Sanders, Ted Berrigan, and Lenore Kandel. He taught courses in jazz and contemporary poetry in the self-education program at the Artists' Workshop's Free University of Detroit and his poems were anthologized in For Malcolm X (B roadside Press) and Poems Now (Kulchur Press) in 1966.

Sinclair was sentenced February 24, 1966 to six months in the Detroit House of Correction for a second arrest (Oct. 1965) on "sales and possession of marijuana." Following his release he became associated with the Grande Ballroom in Detroit (October 196 6) but was arrested a third time on January 24, 1967, with 55 other people in a "hippie dope raid on campus!"

In February 1967 Sinclair organized (with partner and now wife Leni Arndt Sinclair and artist Gary Grimshaw ) a "total cooperative tribal living and working commune," Trans-love Energ ies Unlimited, as an attempt to consolidate the energies of organizes units of the developing counterculture. Trans-love produced dance concerts rock and roll , light shows, books, pamphlets, posters, and the Warren-Forest Sun newspaper (founded and edited by Sinclair and Gary Grimshaw), and served as a cooperative booking agency for rock groups, the MC-5, the Stooges, and Billy C. and the Sunshine. In August 1967 Sinclair became personal managing Frank Bach's band the UP, as Trans-Love turned most of its attention to a rock and roll "assault" that would turn young people on to the possibilities of cultural revolution.

In May-June 1968, after two fire bombings of the commune, Sinclair re-established the entire organization in two huge homes at 1520 Hill Street near that University of Michigan campus in Ann Arbor. Despite this move, John Sinclair remained active in the Detroit Scene as the main publicity-production-promotional advisor to Russ Gibb's Grande Ballroom operation and as the producer (along with Darlene Pound) of Gibb's Detroit Rock & Roll Revival in May 1969.

Deeply influenced by the Black Panther leaders Huey Newton and Eldridge Cleaver, Sinclair (with Pun Plamondon) founded the White Panther Party in November 1968, serving first as its minis ter of information and later as chairman. The ten-point program of the White Panther Party demanded economic and cultural freedom. "Everything free for everybody!" and a total "assault" on the culture by any means necessary were the essence of the Whit e Panther program.

The MC-5 and later the UP and UPRISING continued to spearhead the mass work of the now politically conscious revolution, while the other cultural work of Trans-Love Energies was also carried on. Sinclair began to write for CREEM; the original Warren-Forest Sun became the White Panther Information Service's Sun dance; and the Ann Arbor Argus, which had begun independently under the editorship of Ken Kelley, was mobilized as a semi-official W hite Panther party organ. Originally conceived as an arm of the Youth International Party founded by Abbie Hoffman earlier in 1968, and organized around local issues in Ann Arbor such as free concerts in the parks, the White Panther Party soon had affiliated chapters established nationwide.

In July 1969 Sinclair was sentenced to prison for 9 1/2 to 10 years for possession of two marijuana cigarettes. While in prison he assembled and wrote Guitar Army (a Douglas/World book) and published another collection of writings, Music & Politics (Worl d, 1971), co-authored by Robert Levin. His prolific writings appeared in numerous publications and made him a national symbol more influential than ever before. Two-and-a-half years of le gal and political battles culminated at Crisler Arena in Ann Arbor on December 10, 1971, when 15,000 people attended the Free John Now Rally headlined by John Lennon and Yoko Ono. Just thre e days late, the Michigan supreme Court, on its own motion, ordered Sinclair released and later overturned his conviction, upholding his contention that Michigan's marijuana statutes were unconstitutional and void.

Previous to Sinclair's release from prison, the cultural operations of Trans-Love Energies had been inherited by the newly evolved Rainbow Energies, Inc., a Michigan non-profit organization, and its distribution division, the Rainbow trucking Company. a fter months of self-examination, on April 30, 1971, the White Panther Party dissolved to form the Rainbow People's Party. Chaired by Sinclair, the Rainbow People's Party embraced Marxism-Leninism as its guide to action and concentrated on building a stro ng local political organization to promote the revolutionary struggle for a "communal, classless, anti-imperialist, anti-racist, and anti-sexist...culture of liberation..." Sinclair's energies for promoting cultural change, however, were soon to be more heavily channeled through another origination.

Early in 1972, Sinclair founded (with Peter Andrews) the Rainbow Multi-Media Corporation, serving as its vice -president and creative director. A Michigan non-profit organization, Rainbow Multi-Media (RMM) was designed as an alternative music-business co mpany with a community-service orientation. To further its ultimate goal of restructuring the music industry and the entire society as well along cooperative, creative and communalistic lines, the company made its resources available on a cost-or-less ba sis to community organization committed to progressive social change. Besides his direct responsibilities in the Rainbow Productions and Rainbow Management divisions (the heart of the RMM business) and for overall coordination of the company's complex bu siness operations, Sinclair had further direct responsibilities in the Graphics, Advertising, Video, Radio Productions, and Press division. He was personal manager of the band "Detroit," helped organize and establish the Rockets, and co-produced the Ann Arbor Blues & Jazz Festival (1972-1974). He handled all booking for the Community Program and the Ann Arbor People's ballroom (projects of the Ann Arbor Tribal Council), managed the Rainbow Room at the Old Shelby hotel in Detroit, and produced a weekly radio program, "Toke Time," on Ann Arbor's WNRZ-FM. During this period he also continued to be active in the areas of prison and drug reform, helping to organize the Michigan Committee for Prisoner's rights, touring California in 1971 and 1972 (with his wife, Leni) to promote the Marijuana Initiative there, returning to organize the Michigan Marijuana Initiative, and serving on the Board of Directors for the San Francisco-based Amorphia, I nc., a national non-profit corporation for drug education, research and reform.

Following the massive financial failure of the 1974 Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festival in Exile and the subsequent collapse of the entire Rainbow Multi-Media operation (Oct. 1974), the Sinclairs, along with other principals of the RMM, formed Rainbow Produ ctions, Inc. Subsequently moving to Detroit in 1975, the firm, which Sinclair headed as president and creative director, continued with most of the activities of the defunct Rainbow Corporation including advertising and public relations, printing, photog raphy, graphics, recording, concert production and artist and club management. Sinclair served as Arts Editor and later as Editor-In-Chief of the Detroit Sun (moved from Ann Arbor) until publication was suspended in October, 1976.

In May 1977, he was named as State Coordinator of Michigan NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws), taking a leave of absence from the company to work full time in that capacity. In August 1977 Sinclair, with partners Frank back, Peggy Taube, and other principals of Rainbow Productions, Inc. and the Strata Corporation, formed Strata Associates, Inc., where as its president and creative director he specialized in servicing the entertainment industry, minority business enterprise, pu blishing consultation, and special marketing. Among the non-profit music cooperatives served are the Allied Artists Association, Jazz Development Workshop and Jazz Research Institute. Sinclair also has served as a board member and project director for t he Allied Artists Association, Inc. of Detroit and hosted the popular RE:VISIONS a weekly radio program on WCBN-FM, Ann Arbor. He has been honored for his design work and promotion of jazz in Detroit. Long active in community arts and political circles in Michigan, his other associations include: Friends of Belle isle Board of Directors, founders Society of the Detroit Institute of the Arts, the African Art Gallery Committee of the DIA, the NAACP, the Michigan Advertising Council, the Detroit Press Club , and the Motor City Cultural Association Board of Directors.

John Sinclair's partner and wife, Leni was born Magdalene Arndt on March 8, 1940, in Koenigsberg, Germany. Her interest in jazz music and culture brought her to the United States in 1959; she settled with relatives in Detroit and put herself through coll ege at Wayne Sate University (major in geography), where she met her partner John Sinclair while both were students there. She co-founded the Detroit Artist's Workshop in 1964 and was a major moving force in the organization, doing all the printing on th e Workshop Book series, co-producing concerts and other events, organizing showings of photographic work by herself and other Detroit camera artists, and serving as president of the campus counterpart Wayne State University Artists' Society. She also co- founded Trans-Love Energies and organized the Trans-Love Light Company, the Pisces Eyes Poster Company, and handled all the photography work for the MC-5. She photographed and co-produced the high intensity Kick Out the Jams film, featuring the MC-5, which was selected for a national four of films from Ann Arbor Film Festival in 1970. An organizer of and principal driving force behin d the Free John Sinclair movement and the John Sinclair Freedom Rally, she served as chief photographer for RMM's Productions and Management divisions as well as coordinating the company's R ainbow Video division. She was darkroom manager and layout artist for Rainbow Productions until September 1975, when she became production manager for the Detroit Sun newspaper, acting also as photo editor and chief photographer. When the paper suspende d publication in October 1976, she returned to Rainbow productions, Inc. where she served as Director of Agency Services including design, lay-out, printing, typesetting, photography, silk-screening, publicity, promotion, and advertising.

John and Leni Sinclair were married June 12, 1965. They have two daughters, Marion Sunny Sinclair, born May 4, 1967, and Celia Sanchez Mao Sinclair, born January 17, 1970.

The Sinclairs donated their papers to the Michigan Historical Collections of the University of Michigan in the spring of 1979. The order of the collection, except for certain sections, was disorganized with many overlappings and with much duplication. Processing was further complicated by the intricate network of cultural and business organizations which the Sinclairs founded or supported. After many months of reorganization and winnowing, the collection, now totaling 36 feet of materials, was open for research use in January 1980.

Correspondence in the collection has been arranged chronologically. For the period, 1969-1971, the correspondence was sorted down to the day; for the years before and after, it was sorted down to the month only. Whenever possible, correspondence concerned with specific subjects or relating to the operations of one of the Sinclair organizations has been left with the appropriate subject file or organizational record.

The rest of the collection has been arranged by subject or organization, then by type of material, and finally chronologically within the type. The following is a list of the major series within the collection:

Box No. - Series Inventory

1-7, Correspondence, 1962-1979
7-10 Artists Workshop, 1964-1967
10, Trans-Love Energies Unlimited, 1967-1970/MC-5
10-11, Rainbow Energies, Inc., 1970-1973
11-16, Rainbow Multi-Media Corporation, 1972-1974
16, Rainbow Productions, Inc., 1974-1977
16-17, Strata Corporation/Strata Associates, Inc., 1977-1979
17, Sun
17-18, White Panther Party/Youth Inter-national Party, 1968-1971
18, Rainbow People's Party, 1971-1975
18, Human Rights Party
18, Tribal Council
19-20, Legal and Prison Files
20, Free John Now Campaign
20-21, Marijuana Reform
22-24, Writings
24-25, Miscellaneous
26-27, Periodicals and underground newspapers
27, Interviews and clippings
28-31, Tape recordings [see separate finding aid]
33-35, Underground and White Panther publications
36, Underground and related music publications
37-39, Photographs
37, Sinclair personal and professional photographs
37-38, Ann Arbor Sun/The Sun photograph files: Subject file
38, Ann Arbor Sun/The Sun photograph files: Photographer files
38, Ann Arbor Sun/The Sun photograph files: Miscellaneous file (photographers unidentified)
39, Negatives [Staff use only]
40-41, Posters and broadsides
Outsize, Sound discs [see attached inventory]

The researcher should note that the library has an extensive collection of radical and underground newspapers and periodicals, and thus duplicates of the Ann Arbor Sun and other publications have not been preserved as part of the collection except in certain instances. The researcher should consult the printed catalog and underground newspaper guide for information about holdings of such newspapers.
The John and Leni Sinclair Collection (1957-present) provides a rich and unique source for the study of America's radical movement in the 1960s and '70s and details the cultural, political and business activities of a man whose energy and charisma made him a local and national leader of the counterculture.]]>