Gary Snyder was born in San Francisco on May 8, 1930. His parents were Harold and Lois Hennessy Snyder. His family, impoverished by the Great Depression, moved to Washington when he was two years old. He grew up tending the family farm. At the age of seven he had an accident and was laid up for four months. During those months he was brought a lot of books from the Seattle Public Library. By the time he had recovered from his accident, he had become a voracious reader and his life was changed for the better. When he was twelve his parents got divorced and he, his sister Anthea, and his mother moved to Portland, Oregon. He got one of his first jobs as a copy room boy at The Oregonian where his mother worked. In 1947 Snyder went to study at Reed College on a scholarship. While attending college Snyder meet and befriended Lew Welch and Philip Whalen, who would become Beat poets along with Snyder.
Gary Snyder began the first of four marriages in 1950, when he married Allison Gass. The couple was married for seven months before separating. In 1952 they divorced. In 1951 Snyder graduated from Reed College. He spent the summer after he graduated working as a timber scaler at Warm Springs, the experience gleaned from these summers formed the basis for his earliest published poems. He went to Indiana University for a semester for a graduate fellowship where he studied anthropology. After a semester he left to, as he said: “sink or swim as a poet.” He returned to San Francisco where he lived with Philip Whalen. They both began the study of Zen Buddhism during this time. Snyder also worked as a fire lookout for two summers in the Northern Cascades in Washington. In 1953, while living with Whalen, Snyder enrolled at the University of California, Berkeley to study Asian culture and languages. In June of 1958 Gary Snyder met poet Joanne Kyger, and she became his girlfriend. On Febuary 28, 1960 the two got married as marriage was the only way they could live together and be associated with the First Zen Institute of America. In the early 1960’s the pair travelled to India with Allen Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky. Snyder and Kyger divorced in 1965. On August 6, 1967 Snyder married Masa Uehara. In 1968 they moved to California with their infant son Kai. A year later Snyder and Uehara’s second son, Gen, was born.
In 1975 Snyder won the Pulitzer Prize for his collection Turtle Island. In 1986 Snyder became a professor in the writing program at the University of California, Davis. He now holds the title of Professor Emeritus. In 1989 after twenty-two years Snyder and Uehara divorced. In 1991 Snyder married Carole Lynn Koda. In addition to working with Snyder, Koda also performed independent work as a naturalist. Koda died in 2006.
Lawrence Ferlinghetti, a fellow Beat poet and friend, referred to Snyder as “the Thoreau of the Beat Generation” because of his rural background. Most beat poets where more focused on the city life style, In contrast much of Snyder’s poetry was based in nature. Snyder’s writing style often reflected his Asian interest. SHSU Special Collection has two sets of work by Gary Snyder. They can be found in the Wild Dog collection. The first, titled Journeys, describes the journey through life to death. It can be found as either a manuscript version or the final version. The final version of Journeys can be found in Wild Dog issue 17 page 1. Within the Wild dog collection, issue 17 can be found in Series 2, Subseries4, Box 9, Folder 2. The second work is called Hitch Haiku. It is a set of eight-teen haikus. There are two versions of this as well, but they are almost identical. Hitch Haiku is in Wild Dog 21 page 6. In the collection Wild Dog 21 can be found in Series 2, Subseries 4, Box 9, Folder 5.
To view and read Gary Snyder’s poetry and The Wild Dog Papers visit Newton Gresham Library’s Special Collections on the fourth floor of the Library.