Sanders was born in Kansas City, Missouri. He dropped out of the University of Missouri in 1958 and hitchhiked to New York City’s Greenwich Village. He wrote his first major poem, Poem from Jail, on toilet paper in his cell after being jailed for protesting against nuclear proliferation in 1961.
In 1962, he founded the avant-garde journal, Fuck You: A Magazine of the Arts. Sanders opened the Peace Eye Bookstore (147 Avenue A in what was then the Lower East Side), which became a gathering place for bohemians and radicals.
Sanders graduated from New York University in 1964, with a degree in Classics. In 1965, he founded The Fugs with Tuli Kupferberg. The band broke up in 1969 and reformed in 1984.
In 1971, Sanders wrote The Family, a profile of the events leading up to the Tate-LaBianca murders. He obtained access to the Manson Family by posing as a "Satanic guru-maniac and dope-trapped psychopath."
As of 2006, Sanders lives in Woodstock, New York where he publishes the Woodstock Journal with his wife of over 36 years, the writer and painter Miriam R. Sanders. He also invents musical instruments including the Talking Tie, the microtonal Microlyre and the Lisa Lyre, a musical contraption involving light-activated switches and a reproduction of Da Vinci's Mona Lisa.