Gary Snyder and Bei Dao, two of the foremost poets in contemporary literature, will appear in a rare bilingual meeting of East and West at the University of California, Davis, at 8 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 22, in Kleiber Hall. The two poets will read from recent published and unpublished work.
Snyder, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and author of 17 major books of poetry and nonfiction, was one of the major figures of the Beat Generation in the late 1950s. He spent nine years as a student of Zen in a Kyoto, Japan, monastery, and on his return in 1965, quickly established himself as a leading poet and cultural spokesman. A clear but complex vision unites his work, one which blends East and West, the old ways and post-modern consciousness, Zen meditation and activist politics, high poetry and tribal tales.
An influential voice in the international environmental movement, Snyder will read from a recent collection of essays, "A Place in Space," and from the long-awaited "Mountains and Rivers Without End." The latter work is a cycle of poems on which he has worked since 1959. It will be published later this year. A professor at UC Davis, Snyder teaches in the Creative Writing Program and in the English department.
Dao, Distinguished Visiting Scholar/Writer in the Department of Chinese and Japanese at UC Davis for 1995-96, is widely regarded as the most prominent and influential Chinese poet of our time. Bei Dao, meaning "Northern Island," is the pen name for Zhenkai Zhao. A student whose formal education was stopped by the Cultural Revolution in China 1966-76, Dao was a factory worker for many years. He founded "Today," the first Chinese underground literary journal, in 1978. It was banned and suppressed two years later, but Dao continued on to international stature as a poet and spokesperson for human rights. His 1989 petition to the Chinese government urging the release of political prisoners was one of the seminal events culminating in the student demonstrations at Tiananmen Square. One of the banners the students hoisted prior to Tiananmen was emblazoned with these words from Dao's poem "Declaration": "I will never kneel on the ground/To make the executioner strong."
A political refugee from China since 1989, Dao has taught at universities throughout Europe and America. His five major books have been translated into 20 languages. Refused entry to his native China in late 1994 for political reasons, Dao has been regularly nominated for the Nobel Prize and he was a finalist for the 1995 award in literature. He will read from his work in Chinese, with English translations delivered by UC Davis professor and poet Alan Williamson.
Snyder and Dao appear under the continuing "Spotlight on UCD Writers" series, a program co-sponsored by the Chinese and Japanese department, the English department, the Humanities Institute and the College of Letters and Science. A public booksigning and reception will follow. All events are free and open to the public. Early seating is advised.