May 20, 2008 -- The University of California, San Diego Libraries have acquired a collection of the letters of Gary Snyder, the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet who began writing in the 1950s as one of the writers of the Beat Generation. Snyder, 78, who currently resides in the Bay area, was also just recently named as the 2008 recipient of the $100,000 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, the highest prize given in the field of poetry.
The Snyder letters, which add to the UC San Diego Libraries Mandeville Special Collections’ nationally-renowned Archive for New Poetry, comprise personal correspondence between Snyder and Shandel Parks, a founder of San Francisco’s Louvre Gallery and the American Academy of Asian Studies. Parks and Snyder were friends who shared an interest in Zen Buddhism as well as a set of like-minded friends, including Alan Watts, Philip Whalen, Kenneth Rexroth, and Shunryo Suzuki. Parks introduced Snyder to Kenneth Rexroth, a poet and scholar who was a major influence on the poet. In his latest collection of poetry, Snyder dedicated two poems to Parks.
“The Snyder papers will complement a number of single-author collections in the Library, including those by the poet’s publisher, Donald Allen, and his colleagues, Joanne Kyger, Lew Welch, Paul Blackburn, Clayton Eshleman, and Jerome Rothenberg (UC San Diego Emeritus professor of Literature),” said Robert Melton, curator of the Archive for New Poetry.
According to UC San Diego Literature Professor Michael Davidson, a well-known authority on modern poetry, Snyder read his poetry at the legendary Six Gallery reading in San Francisco in 1955 and was associated with Beat Generation writers, including Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Philip Whalen, Michael McClure, and Lew Welch. A Zen Buddhist who has been described as the Henry David Thoreau of the Beat Movement, Snyder’s papers reflect his love of the wilderness, which can be traced back to his childhood in the Pacific Northwest and subsequently, through his travels in Japan, China, and India. Snyder was immortalized as the mystical poet in the book, Dharma Bums, by the Beat writer Jack Kerouac, who was inspired by a mountain climbing outing Snyder led with some of the Beat writers in the Sierra Nevada mountains.
Snyder has published sixteen books of poetry and prose, including Mountains and Rivers Without End (1997); No Nature: New and Selected Poems (1993); The Practice of the Wild (1990); Left Out in the Rain, New Poems 1947-1985; and Regarding Wave (1970). He received the Pulitzer Prize for poetry for his book, Turtle Island (1974) and an American Book Award for Axe Handles (1983). He also translated the Chinese poet, Han-shan, (Cold Mountain Poems), and the Japanese poet, Miyazawa Kenji, and throughout his life, moved between Asia and the U.S. His long poetic series, Myths and Texts, fuses the cultures of Northwest Indian peoples with East Asian cultures and a working class environmental ethic. A professor emeritus of English at UC Davis, Snyder has been the recipient of numerous awards for his poetry, including an American Academy of Arts & Letters award, the Bollingen Prize, and the Robert Kirsch Lifetime Achievement Award from the Los Angeles Times. The bulk of his papers are housed at the UC Davis Library.
The UC San Diego Libraries’ Archive for New Poetry is widely recognized as one of the most comprehensive research collections of American poetry in the nation, documenting alternative and experimental approaches to writing in the post-WWII era. The collection focuses on the “New American” poets, including the Black Mountain poets, the Objectivist Movement, the San Francisco Renaissance, the New York School , and the language writers. The Archive, which includes more than 35,000 volumes, 1,800 serial titles, over 700 poetry broadsides, and extensive manuscript holdings, was established in 1968 by UC San Diego Literature Professor Roy Harvey Pearce. Collections of personal papers in the Archive include those of Paul Blackburn, George and Mary Oppen, Charles Reznikoff, Susan Howe, Jackson Mac Low, Lyn Hejinian, and James Schuyler, among many others.
“The Archive for New Poetry, which supports intense research use by students, scholars, and writers throughout the world, has been noted for the unique materials in its holdings,” said Davidson, who uses the Archive in his research and teaching. “In addition to monographs, anthologies, and works on criticism and interpretation, the Archive has substantial holdings of literary manuscripts and correspondence, publishers’ and editors’ archives, broadsides, sound recordings, ‘little magazines,’ ephemeral printings, artists’ books, concrete poems, and serials,” said Davidson.
With nearly 3.5 million print and digital resources in its collections, the UC San Diego Libraries are the largest academic library system south of Los Angeles. Comprising nine distinct libraries ranging from arts and oceanography to biomedicine and special collections, the UCSD Libraries rank in the top 25 U.S. public libraries among the members of the prestigious Association of Research Libraries.