In 1948, three students at Reed College met, became friends and eventually became involved with the Beat Generation, the San Francisco Renaissance and the Black Mountain Poets.
Gary Sherman Snyder was born May 8, 1930 in San Francisco, California to Harold and Lois Hennessy Snyder.
After attending Reed College with friends Philip Whalen and Lew Welch, Snyder went to Berkeley to study Asian Languages. He had always had a particular interest in Chinese and Japanese culture and poetry and he shared this interest with Kenneth Rexroth, one of the first poets in the United States to explore traditional Japanese poetic forms such as haiku. It was through Rexroth that Snyder first met and then fell in love with the Beat crowd.
On Oct. 7, 1955, Snyder read his poem, A Berry Feast at the Six Gallery poetry reading in San Francisco, where Rexroth acted as master of ceremonies. Allen Ginsberg, Philip Lamantia, Michael McClure and Philip Whalen also read at the famous event.
Through Ginsberg, Snyder met Jack Kerouac and became the inspiration for the main character in Kerouac’s novel, The Dharma Bums.
Snyder is considered one of the founding members of the Beat Generation. He is also a member of the San Francisco Renaissance and one of the Black Mountain Poets.
Some of his most notable works include Riprap and Cold Mountain Poems; No Nature; The Practice of the Wild; Left Out in the Rain; Axe Handles; Turtle Island; Regarding Wave; and Myths and Texts.
Philip Whalen was born Oct. 20, 1923 in Portland, Oregon. During World War II, he served in the US Army Air Forces, and later attended Reed College on the GI Bill.
In 1955, along with Gary Snyder, Whalen read at the famous Six Gallery reading, an event that helped launch the West Coast Beats.
Like Snyder, Whalen was a Zen Buddhist and found spiritual enlightenment in the Cascade Mountains in the Pacific Northwest as a fire lookout. Kerouac and Snyder would also spend time as fire lookouts atop these same mountains.
In 1973, Whalen was ordained as a Zen monk. He died June 26, 2002 at the age of 78 in San Francisco, California.
His books include You Didn’t Even Try; Off the Wall: Interviews With Philip Whalen; Enough Said: Poems 1974-1979; Heavy Breathing: Poems 1967-1980; Canoeing Up Cabarga Creek: Buddhist Poems; and Overtime: Selected Poems.
Lew Welch was born Aug. 16, 1926 in Phoenix, Arizona to Lewis Barrett Welch Sr. and Dorothy Brownfield Welch.
In 1948, Welch moved to Portland, Oregon to attend Reed College, where he roomed with Gary Snyder and Philip Whalen. While he shared a love of literature with his roommates, he was unfortunately away in Chicago, working as a marketing researcher at the time of the landmark Six Gallery poetry reading.
Unlike Snyder and Whalen, Welch did not find spiritual calmness through Buddhism and suffered from a nervous breakdown, which he was recovering from while in Chicago.
On May 23, 1971, while staying with Snyder, he walked out of the house in the mountains of California, carrying his rifle and leaving behind a suicide note. He was never seen again; his body was never found.
Gary Snyder and Philip Whalen would live on as prominent poets and influences of the generation and key members of the West Coast Beats.