Gary Snyder: Biography & Poems

Instructor: Christina Boggs

Chrissy has taught secondary English and history and writes online curriculum. She has an M.S.Ed. in Social Studies Education.

Gary Snyder is an American poet who got his start in the Beat Generation, but he is best known for the environmental and eastern themes found in his work. In this lesson, you will learn about Snyder's early life, career, and poems.

A Man of Many Talents

When you were a small child, what did you want to be when you grew up? Maybe an astronaut? A ballerina? A professional athlete? As you may already know, the big career plans you make as a kid don't always pan out. Today, most people don't spend their entire professional lives in a single career, but instead they might work in different positions over time. Gary Snyder is one such example: before becoming a poet, he worked in the great outdoors.

Growing Up

Gary Snyder was born on May 8, 1930, in San Francisco, California. His parents divorced when he was a small child, and he moved to Oregon to live with his mom. Oregon and the Pacific Northwest became the backdrop for Snyder's early interests and adventures. Growing up on a farm, he learned to love nature and he gained an appreciation for the outdoors. During his childhood, he was exposed to Native American culture, especially their beliefs about the natural world. These early experiences had a significant impact on his work as a poet.


At the age of 17, Snyder began studying at Reed College in Portland, Oregon. While he studied Asian culture at Reed College, Snyder still made a point to spend time in the great outdoors where he had many different jobs, including working as a lumberjack and building trails in the wilderness.

After graduating from Reed College in 1951, Gary Snyder spent time studying anthropology, a subject that focuses on human societies and how they've developed over time. After about a year as a graduate fellow at Indiana University, Snyder moved back to the West Coast where he studied Chinese and Japanese languages.

Becoming a Poet

Around the time Snyder moved back to California, he began writing poetry and became friends with a number of famous poets from the Beat Generation, a group of post-World War II writers who challenged contemporary culture with their work. Among Snyder's new friends were Philip Whalen, Jack Kerouac, and Allen Ginsberg. Snyder, along with Ginsberg and Whalen, participated in the Six Gallery reading in 1955, a Beat poetry event. At the reading, Snyder shared his poem 'The Berry Feast.'

Later Career

In 1956, Gary Snyder left his California friends and headed to Japan to study at the First Zen Institute of America. Zen Buddhism is a type of Buddhism that focuses on the importance of meditation to achieve enlightenment. For over a decade, Snyder traveled through Asia studying and practicing this eastern philosophy. In 1986, he accepted a job as a creative writing professor at the University of California - Davis. He retired from this position in 2002.


Over the course of his lifetime, Gary Snyder has published nearly 20 collections of poetry, prose, and essays, covering everything from nature, eastern religions, parenthood, worldwide travel, and the lives of native people. Gary Snyder's work is best known for its environmental and philosophical themes.

In 1959 and 1960, he published his first two collections, Rip Rap and Myths & Texts. Both collections discuss his life growing up in the Pacific Northwest. Less than a decade later, Snyder published The Back Country and Regarding Wave, which reflect the ways that Zen Buddhism has influenced his general outlook on life.

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