Gary Snyder 1930–
(Full name Gary Sherman Snyder) American poet, essayist, translator.
Snyder is a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet whose work, strongly influenced by Buddhism, deals with the natural world and ecological concerns. Snyder made his poetic debut at the Six Gallery in San Francisco in 1955, at what has come to be known as the "coming out party" for the Beat Generation poets. Although he lived in Japan, studying Zen Buddhism, during much of the Beat period, he has been linked personally and professionally with Beat writers such as Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac. While much of the Beat writing is characterized by a rejection of literary tradition, Snyder's work embodies the influence of literary giants such as T. S. Eliot, Walt Whitman, and Ezra Pound. In addition to winning the Pulitzer Prize for his 1974 poetry collection, Turtle Island, he has also been honored with the Bollingen Prize for Poetry and the John Hay Award for Nature Writing.
Snyder was raised on small farms, first in Washington and later in Oregon, and held jobs as a logger, seaman, and fire-lookout. His interest in American Indian culture led him to acquire degrees in literature and anthropology at Reed College. He began graduate studies in linguistics at Indiana University, and then transferred to University of California at Berkeley, where he studied Oriental languages. During the early 1950s, Snyder became involved with the Beat community. Just as the Beat poets were gaining national attention, Snyder moved to Japan, where he became actively involved in Zen Buddhism. He subsequently returned to California, where he lived and worked in rural areas. Since 1985, he has been a professor of creative writing at the University of California at Davis.
Snyder's writing is strongly influenced by his understanding of Native American culture, Asian culture (primarily Japan and China) and the environment. His early writing—such as his first book, Riprap—reflects an appreciation for the hard work of rural life and the bond it produces with nature. Myths & Texts, his next collection, is a long, highly allusive lyrical poem divided into three sections: "Logging," "Hunting," and "Burning." The Back Country (1967), divided into five sections—"The Far West," "The Far East," "Kali," "Back," and translations of work by the Japanese poet Miyazawa Kenji—reveals the influence of
East and West on both the style and content of Snyder's poetry. His subsequent major collections—Regarding Wave (1969), Turtle Island (1974) and Axe Handles (1983)—continue to develop the themes and concerns introduced in his early collections. His Mountains and Rivers Without End (1996) is an ongoing lyrical series, begun in the 1950s. In addition to his poetry, Snyder has published a number of nonfiction works, most notably Earth House Hold (1969), The Old Ways (1979), and The Real Work (1980), collections of essays that relate to his poetry thematically.
Snyder has been regarded by some critics and other poets as an heir of the Emersonian tradition because of his concern both for the natural and the spiritual worlds. Critical response to Snyder's works has been mixed. Upon publication of Riprap, some reviewers perceived Snyder as simplistic and overrated. Yet others commented favorably on the clarity and exactness of Riprap's spare poems. Myths & Texts has been regarded as superior to Riprap in literary merit: it is more tightly constructed, unified, and expansive. While Snyder shows more certainty and control in Turtle Island, it has also been criticized for being polemical.