Born in South Bend in 1905, Kenneth Charles Marion Rexroth grew up in Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Illinois. His ancestors were scholars, peasants, and religious and political dissenters from Germany and Ireland, along with native and black Americans, and pioneers, all of whom enriched his unique personality. His parents were sophisticated travelers who took him on his first European tour when he was seven. After they died a few years later, he became independently active in Chicago as a precocious and revolutionary painter, poet, actor, and journalist—appearing as a character inJames T. Farrell’s Studs Lonigan (1934). After exploring Europe, Mexico, and the West Coast, he moved to San Francisco in 1927, where he made his home until moving to Santa Barbara in the late 1960’s. Eastern and Western contemplative practices affected the visionary orientation of his poetry, painting, and philosophy. During World War II, he was a conscientious objector, working in a psychiatric hospital where he was severely injured by a patient. He also assisted interned and otherwise harassed Japanese Americans, and his friendships with Asians deepened his lifelong interest in Asian culture, especially Buddhism, which harmonizes in his work with an ecologically based sense of universal community.
Rexroth was married to Andrée Dutcher, an anarchist painter, from 1927 until her death in 1940; to Marie Kass, a nurse, from 1940 until their divorce in 1948; and to Marthe Larsen, a member of the Libertarian Circle, from 1949 until their divorce in 1961. Two daughters, Mary and Katherine, were born to them in 1950 and 1954 respectively. In 1974, he married the poet Carol Tinker, and they spent a year in Kyoto before returning to their home in Montecito. Rexroth also toured Asia in 1967, 1972, 1978, and 1980. He died on June 6, 1982.