Snyder,Gary Sherman (1930 – ) American Writer and Poet

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Gary Sherman Snyder (1930 )
American writer and poet

Snyder was born in San Francisco but grew up in the Northwest, learning about nature and life in cow pastures and second-growth forests. He earned his B.A. in anthropology at Reed College in Portland and spent some time at other universities, learning Asian languages and literatures. During the 1950s, Snyder became a part of the Beat Movement in San Francisco along with such noted figures as Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. While there he supported himself by working at a variety of odd jobs before leaving to study Zen Buddhism in Japan where he remained for nearly a decade.

Best known as a Pulitzer-prize-winning poet (for Turtle Island, 1974; No Nature, 1992), Snyder is also an elegant essayist whose collections include The Practice of the Wild (1990). Snyder is often described as the ecological poet, producing work that demonstrates a deep understanding of the subject. Through his poetry Snyder teaches ecologyas science, philosophy, and world viewto a wide audience.

Snyder's ecological principles center on eating and being eaten, house-keeping principles, the quest for community, identification with and fitting into locale and place, and understanding connective cycles, relationships and interdependence. He does not, for example, condemn hunting or taking life, but instead explains it as necessary and sacred: "there is no death that is not somebody's food, no life that is not somebody's death." But he urges his reader to treat the taking of life and the life ingested with respect. Because eating involves consuming other lives, Snyder believes, "eating is truly a sacrament." For Snyder, the primary ethical teaching of all times and places is "cause no unnecessary harm."

He declares that "there are many people on the planet now who are not 'inhabitants,'" meaning they do not identify with or know anything about the place in which they live. He emphasizes that "to know the spirit of a place is to realize that you are a part of a part and the whole is made of parts, each of which is whole. You start with the part you are whole in." He notes that "our relation to the natural world takes place in a place, and it must be grounded in information and experience"; basically, you "settle in and take responsibility and pay attention."

In Myths & Texts, Snyder notes that "As a poet I hold the most archaic values on earth. They go back to the upper Paleolithic: the fertility of the soil , the magic of animals, the power-vision in solitude, the terrifying initiation and rebirth...the common work of the tribe." He is an activist who does not seek to return to an unclaimable past, but who tries to raise awareness of how humans are connected to each other, to other life-forms, and to the earth. Currently, Snyder is an English professor at the University of California.

[Gerald L. Young Ph.D. ]



Halper, J., ed. Gary Snyder: Dimensions of a Life. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1991.

Murphy, P. D. Critical Essays on Gary Snyder. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1990.

Paul, S. In Search of the Primitive: Rereading David Antin, Jerome Rothenberg, and Gary Snyder. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1986.

Snyder, G. Myths & Texts. New York: New Directions, 1978.

. No Nature. New York: Pantheon Books, 1992.

. The Practice of the Wild. San Francisco: North Point Press, 1990.

. Turtle Island. New York: New Directions, 1974.


Martin, J. "Speaking for the Green of the Leaf: Gary Snyder Writes Nature's Literature." CEA Critic: An Official Journal of the College English Association 54 (Fall 1991): 98109.