Return of the Prodigal Dharma Bum

Gary Snyder ’51 will be returning to Reed this Friday, February 7th at 5:15 PM in Vollum Lecture Hall to give a talk and receive this year’s Thomas Lamb Eliot Award which recognizes sustained distinguished achievement by a Reed College graduate.

Snyder is a poet who is often associated with the Beat Generation and whose works have won worldwide acclaim, receiving the Pulitzer Prize, the Bollingen Prize for Poetry, the Ruth Lily Poetry Prize, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and the International Award from the Buddhist Transmission Foundation.

Snyder has been committed throughout his career to pursuing Buddhist spirituality and his connection to nature, he is often considered the “poet laureate of Deep Ecology.” Deep Ecology is an environmental movement whose ideology is based on the belief that the living environment and its components should be respected and regarded as having inalienable legal rights to grow and and prosper regardless of whether or not they are commodified for human use. He is also well known and commended for his environmental activism as well as his translation of Chinese and Japanese literature into English.

During his time at Reed, Snyder lived at 1414 SE Lambert St., in what is considered to be one of the first co-ed postwar Reed Houses. His thesis, an analysis of a Haida Indian swan-maiden myth foreshadows much of his future work and is rumored to be the most photocopied thesis at Reed until its publication in book form in 1979. Snyder also features prominently in Jack Kerouac’s novel The Dharma Bums under the pseudonym Japhy Ryder.

In a 1999 Reed Magazine article written by John Sheehy, Snyder says: “I’m one of those people in whom the experiential and the intellectual is not clearly divided...So when I first heard about Native American sweat lodges—without even thinking twice about it, I went out and built a sweat lodge and tried it. Then I understood with my body how deep that practice is.”

This idea of experiencing something to learn something is a ideology and technique that has followed Snyder through the rest of his endeavors.