Philip Whalen grew up in the small town of The Dalles on the Columbia River, where he attended public school. In his high school years, he contributed to his high school literary magazine and commenced his readings in Asian literature and philosophy. Since his family was unable to send him to college, after his graduation in 1941, Whalen took minor jobs before being drafted into the U.S. Army Air Corps. He received training in radio operation and maintenance and was given stateside military posting during the war. His military service left him adequate free time to continue pursuing his writing.
Receiving his military discharge in 1946, Whalen returned to Oregon, where he enrolled at Reed College on the G.I. Bill. He pursued a course in creative writing and developed several important friendships, including with fellow students Lew Welch and Gary Snyder. The trio shared lodgings in a rooming house in 1950, the year they also met and received encouragement from William Carlos Williams, who spent a week at Reed on a reading tour. The encounter marked the point when Whalen began taking himself seriously as a writer. After leaving Reed, Whalen supported himself with a string of odd jobs along the West Coast that ended with summer employment as a fire spotter in Mount Baker National Forest, in 1955. This experience is reflected in his poem “Sourdough Mountain Lookout.” That fall, he moved to San Francisco, and at Snyder’s invitation took part in the...
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