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The Heath Anthology of American Literature, Fifth Edition
Paul Lauter, General Editor

Gary Snyder
(b. 1930)

Gary Snyder has said that his work “has been driven by the insight that all is connected and interdependent—nature, societies; rocks, stars.” Growing up on a small farm north of Seattle, Washington, he was devoted to hiking and camping. At Reed College he wrote poetry, majored in literature and anthropology, read Chinese and Indian Buddhist philosophy, and prepared a thesis on a Native American myth of the Northwest coast. After studying linguistics and anthropology for a term at Indiana University, he broke off his academic career—ending also the marriage with Alison Gass that had begun at Reed—and went to San Francisco. He spent two summers as a forest-fire lookout—at Crater Mountain and Sourdough Mountain—and then entered the University of California in 1953 as a student of Oriental languages, preparing himself to go to Asia.

The American West and ancient China came together in his translations from “Cold Mountain,” by the Zen hermit Han Shan. In 1955, having met Kenneth Rexroth, Jack Kerouac, and Allen Ginsberg, he took part in the poetry reading at the Six Gallery that launched the “San Francisco Renaissance.” A lively if rather superficial portrait of him, as Japhy Ryder, is central to Kerouac’s novel The Dharma Bums.

In 1956 Snyder went to Japan, where he learned Japanese and studied Zen Buddhism with Miura Isshu. Over the next twelve years he spent much time there, continuing his studies with Oda Sesso. He also had brief interludes of work in a ship’s engine-room, travel through India with Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky, teaching at Berkeley, and reading his poetry on American college campuses. From 1960 to 1965 he was married to Joanne Kyger. In 1967, while living at Banyan Ashram on Suwa-No-Se Island off the coast of Kyushu, Japan, he married Masa Uehara. After their son Kai was born the following year, the family came to the United States, where a second son, Gen, was born in 1969. In 1971 Snyder built a home in the foothills of the Sierra Mountains in California, where the family lived together for many years. In 1988, Snyder and Masa Uehara separated, and he was joined at “Kitkitdizze” by Carole Korda, whom he married in 1991.

During the last two decades—in poetry, prose, political action, and personal example—Snyder has been an advocate for ecological awareness. With Earth House Hold and Turtle Island (awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1975) his vision of cosmic interdependence or community assumed forceful and comprehensive literary form. Since 1985 he has been teaching at the University of California at Davis.

Snyder’s poetry recovers values important to Thoreau and Whitman but does so in ways that have been influenced by the darker perspective of Robinson Jeffers, the pan-sexuality of D. H. Lawrence, the imagist discipline of Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams, related disciplines in Japanese and Chinese poetry, the structural use of myth in the long poem from The Waste Land to Paterson and The Maximus Poems, the sound-shaping and shamanism in oral poetry, and the analytical insights of depth psychology, anthropology, and biology. All this is grounded in the serious practice of Zen. The poetics of Riprap is a craft of placing verbal details to make a path for the attention. That of the early Myths & Texts and of Mountains and Rivers Without End, a text composed over a forty-year period, involves the counterpointing of personal experience, meditation, exploration of myth, and song. In Regarding Wave his attention turned more sharply to words—their sounds, etymologies, proliferating meanings—as offering a field of generative energies like those that shape the cosmos itself. With urgency and detachment, seriousness and humor, Snyder continues as poet and essayist to explore the primal activities through which we participate in the “Great Family” whose habitation is Mind.

Thomas R. Whitaker
Yale University

In the Heath Anthology
Riprap (1959)
Vapor Trails (1959)
It Was When (1969)
Wave (1969)

Other Works
Myths & Texts (1960)
Riprap, and Cold Mountain Poems (1965)
A Range of Poems (1966)
The Back Country (1968)
Earth House Hold: Technical Notes & Queries to Fellow Dharma Revolutionaries (1969)
Regarding Wave (1969)
Turtle Island (poems and prose) (1974)
The Old Ways: Six Essays (1977)
He Who Haunted Birds in His Father's Village: Dimensions of a Haida Myth (1979)
The Real Work: Interviews & Talks, 1964-1979 (1980)
Axe Handles (1983)
Passage Through India (prose) (1984)
Left Out in the Rain: New Poems, 1947-1985 (1986)
The Practice of the Wild: Essays (1990)
A Place in Space: Ethics, Aesthetics, and Watersheds: New and Selected Prose (1995)
Mountains and Rivers Without End (1996)

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"Gary Snyder - basic materials for the counterculture"
This site provides an excerpt from David Burner's Making Peace with the Sixties.

Literary Kicks
A hypertext biography.

Modern American Poetry
A chronology/biography, criticism, and a bibliography.

An audio file of a conversation between Snyder, Alan Watts, Timothy Leary, and Allen Ginsberg about spiritual change.

Secondary Sources

Tim Dean, Gary Snyder and the American Unconscious: Inhabiting the Ground, 1991

Jon Halper, ed., Gary Snyder: Dimensions of a Life, 1991

Charles Molesworth, Gary Snyder's Vision: Poetry and the Real Work, 1983

Patrick D. Murphy, ed., Critical Essays on Gary Snyder, 1990

Patrick D. Murphy, A Place for Wayfaring: The Poetry and Prose of Gary Snyder, 2000

Sherman Paul, In Search of the Primitive: Rereading David Antin, Jerome Rothenberg, and Gary Snyder, 1986

Bob Steuding, Gary Snyder, 1976