Featured Author: Gary Snyder

Gary SnyderIn October 1955, the Beat school of American writers went public with a reading at the Six Gallery in San Francisco. Allen Ginsberg’s Howl was the highlight of the evening, but Gary Snyder (b. 1930) was there as well, reading one of his now-classic early poems, “A Berry Feast.” In the years since, while the Beat flame blazed very high and then guttered, Snyder has built one of the more important careers in American letters, a career that has gone beyond movements and fads and that has been sustained by his concern for the natural world.

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Snyder, unlike most of the Beats, was intimately connected with that world from the beginning—a child of the Pacific Northwest who spent his early years climbing high mountains and working in fire towers and on logging crews (Japhy Ryder, the hero of Kerouac’s 1958 The Dharma Bums, is based on Snyder). While many of the 1950s avant-garde grew interested in Eastern thought, Snyder took the project more seriously than most—he lived from 1956 to 1968 in Japan, often in a Zen monastery. He returned to the U.S. at the height of the counterculture years, and again found himself at the forefront.

His darkly comic poem about that eco-icon Smokey the Bear dates from that period, and was soon followed by Turtle Island (1974), which won the Pulitzer Prize and was on the bookshelf of every commune and back-to-the-land homestead. Turtle Island was an aboriginal name for the North American continent, and much of his work in recent decades has explored the ecological power of indigenous understanding, always with the hope that all Americans might decide to settle in and become “native to their place.”

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