Gary Snyder Biography


(Masterpieces of American Literature)
ph_0111204767-Snyder.jpg Gary Snyder Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Although he was born in San Francisco, Gary Snyder moved to the Pacific Northwest before he was two, and he spent his youth and college years there. His parents, Harold and Lois Snyder, eked out a living on small family farms, first near Seattle, then near Portland. Snyder and his sister, Thea, enjoyed the plants and animals of these rural areas and learned the challenges and satisfactions of hard physical work. Snyder also traces his political orientation through family roots: His grandfather was a labor organizer for the Industrial Workers of the World, and Snyder often cites their motto of “forming the new society within the shell of the old”—of developing a healthy alternative culture rather than seeking to confront and destroy outmoded institutions.

During his high school years, and through college and several years after, Snyder worked at a variety of jobs. Some were cerebral (such as jobs in journalism, radio programming, and teaching), but more often they involved manual labor and craftsmanship in the outdoors—aspects of a lifestyle that Snyder has continued to embrace even after he could have supported himself solely as a writer. This physical work in his youth involved jobs as a ranger and fire lookout, logger, trail crew worker, and seaman. Snyder was refused reemployment as a lookout in 1954 as a result of his involvement with social and political activists, in spite of uniformly superior evaluations from coworkers and administrators.

In 1947, Snyder enrolled at Reed College, a progressive liberal arts institution in Portland, which he says taught him valuable research and writing skills and encouraged critical thinking from a wide range of viewpoints. He earned a B.A. in literature and anthropology in 1951, and his honors thesis, He Who Hunted Birds in His Father’s Village: The Dimensions of a Haida Myth, was published in book form in 1979. This thesis, a research study of a Native American myth from British Columbia, is both a remarkably mature piece of scholarship and an extraordinary early statement of the principles linking poet, community, and nature that would come to guide Snyder’s poetic practice throughout the coming decades.

Also while at Reed, he entered the first of his four marriages—to Alison Gass, a marriage that lasted less than one year. Snyder’s first move toward an academic career was also short-lived: He began a graduate program in linguistics at Indiana University in 1951 but dropped out after a semester. Returning to the West Coast in the fall of 1952, Snyder lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for four years—a crucial period in his development as a poet. In 1953, he began a three-year stint in the graduate program in Oriental languages at the University of California at Berkeley.

Even as a child, Snyder’s imagination had been drawn to Asia. When he first saw Chinese landscape paintings at age nine, he noted close similarities between the wet, heavily forested mountains of Washington and Chinese “mountains of the spirit.” Later he immersed himself in the poetry of China, which he viewed as “a high civilization that has managed to keep in tune with nature.” Ezra Pound and Kenneth Rexroth served as models of older American poets who had also learned from the concentrated imagery of Asian poetry.

During these years in the Bay Area, Snyder also became part of the loosely knit community...

(The entire section is 1393 words.)

Gary Snyder Biography

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

As an American cultural figure, Snyder has gained the stature of a modern Thoreau while going beyond Thoreau’s isolation to live as a wise elder, a sage whose affable, accessible, and inspirational qualities have not diminished the hard intelligence and rigorous poetic practice of his working life. He leads an exemplary life in accord with both the practical counsel and the visionary ideals that his writings express so eloquently. Snyder’s place in the canon of great American poets is more problematic, primarily because some critics contend that much of his later poetry is more polemical or more relaxed than the most highly praised poems of his early career. Few would dispute, however, that Snyder’s poetic voice often speaks with clarity, humor, and wisdom. Many would go further to insist that his poetry is powerful enough to transform the consciousness of those who read it, creating a shared vision that represents humanity’s best chance to preserve the earth for future generations.

Gary Snyder Biography

(Poets and Poetry in America)

Gary Sherman Snyder was born in San Francisco in 1930, the son of Harold Alton Snyder and Lois Wilkie Snyder. His parents moved back to their native Pacific Northwest in 1932, where they settled on a dairy farm near Puget Sound in Washington. Snyder’s mother moved to Portland, Oregon, to work as a newspaper-woman when Snyder was twelve, and she reared Snyder and his younger sister Anthea as a single parent, insisting that Snyder commute downtown to attend Lincoln High, the most intellectually demanding school in the Portland system.

In 1947, he received a scholarship to Reed College, where he devised a unique major in anthropology and literature. Early in his college years, he joined the Mazamas and the Wilderness Society, both outdoors groups, and took up backcountry hiking and skiing and snow-peak mountaineering. His first poems were published in the Reed College literary magazine. He lived in an old house shared by a dozen other students similarly interested in art and politics, including the poets Philip Whalen and Lew Welch, who became his close friends. Snyder wrote for The Oregonian newspaper at night and spent the summer of 1950 on an archaeological dig at old Fort Vancouver in Washington. At about that time, he was briefly married to Allison Gass, a fellow student.

Upon graduation from Reed, Snyder completed one semester of graduate studies in linguistics at Indiana University before transferring to the University of California, Berkeley, to study Asian languages. During the summers of the years he pursued graduate work, he took a job first as a fire-watcher in the Cascade mountains and later, after he was fired in the McCarthy-era hysteria of 1954, as a choker-setter for the Warm Springs Lumber Company. Utilizing skills in woodcutting he had learned from his family and neighbors, Snyder “was often supporting himself” in his student years, and his first accomplished poems were related to these experiences as well as to his work on a trail crew in Yosemite in 1955.

That fall, Snyder met Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac and became involved in the exploding art scene in San Francisco, where he took part in the historic Six Gallery reading where Ginsberg read “Howl” in public for the first time. Snyder followed this extraordinary performance with his own poetry in a very different vein and was also successful in capturing the attention of the audience. He and Kerouac shared a cabin in Mill Valley, California, through that winter and spring, and then Snyder traveled to Kyoto, Japan, to take up residence in a...

(The entire section is 1047 words.)

Gary Snyder Biography

(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Gary Snyder was born in 1930 to Lois Snyder Hennessy, a creative writing student from the University of Washington, and Harold Snyder, an unemployed automobile salesman. From age two to twelve, he lived on his parents’ two-acre logged-over farm north of Seattle. At ten he began delivering milk to neighbors, his hands blue with cold during the winters. Shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor, his father accepted a position in Portland, Oregon, with the U.S. Civil Service Commission.

Snyder earned his first sleeping bag by getting subscriptions for a Portland newspaper. His clothes came from Goodwill. After high school he worked at KEX radio and as a music librarian’s office boy and later as a copy boy for United...

(The entire section is 589 words.)

Gary Snyder Biography

(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Poet, translator, essayist, and educator Gary Sherman Snyder grew up in the state of Washington and later moved to Portland, Oregon, where he gained an appreciation for the wilderness and mountain trails that became interests dominating his future writings. In 1947 he attended Reed College, studying literature and anthropology with a special interest in Native American myth. At Reed he gained a lifelong interest in Chinese calligraphy and began a lifelong friendship with fellow Buddhist poet Philip Whalen. He pursued graduate work at Indiana University, then studied classical Chinese at the University of California at Berkeley.

In the mid-1950’s he became associated with poets Kenneth Rexroth, Lawrence Ferlinghetti,...

(The entire section is 816 words.)

Gary Snyder Biography

(Poetry for Students)

Born on May 8, 1930 in San Francisco, Gary Snyder was the elder of two children. Hard hit by the Depression, his impoverished family...

(The entire section is 655 words.)

Gary Snyder Biography

(Poetry for Students)

Gary Snyder was born in San Francisco in 1930. His parents separated when he was very young, and he spent most of his early years living with...

(The entire section is 500 words.)