Born in San Francisco and raised on a farm north of Seattle, Gary Snyder was educated at Reed College, where he studied literature, Buddhist philosophy, and Native American mythology. He then worked as a logger and spent summers as a forest-fire lookout in Oregon, Washington, and California. Involved with the Beat writers in San Francisco in the mid-1950s, he made a major change in his life in 1956, moving to Japan to study Zen Buddhism. Except for some shipboard work, he remained there for twelve years. He had been through two failed marriages in the United States, but in Japan he met and married Masa Uehara, and that relationship survived until 1988. They returned to the U.S. in 1968, and a few years later Snyder built a home in a remote community in the foothills of the Sierra Mountains in California.
Although Snyder has adopted different forms over the years, he generally prefers a direct, simple diction over intricate metaphor and allusion. Against the errors of industrial civilization Synder sets not only a reverence for nature but also a vital celebration of human sexuality. More recently, Snyder has borrowed shamanistic effects from oral poetry and done more experimentation with field effects and the space of the page. He has taught college occasionally, most recently at the University of California at Davis.