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Cover for Crowded by Beauty

Crowded by Beauty

The Life and Zen of Poet Philip Whalen

David Schneider


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Philip Whalen was an American poet, Zen Buddhist, and key figure in the literary and artistic scene that unfolded in San Francisco in the 1950s and ’60s. When the Beat writers came West, Whalen became a revered, much-loved member of the group. Erudite, shy, and profoundly spiritual, his presence not only moved his immediate circle of Beat cohorts, but his powerful, startling, innovative work would come to impact American poetry to the present day.

Drawing on Whalen’s journals and personal correspondence—particularly with Ginsberg, Kerouac, Snyder, Kyger, Welch, and McClure —David Schneider shows how deeply bonded these intimates were, supporting one another in their art and their spiritual paths. Schneider, himself an ordained priest, provides an insider’s view of Whalen’s struggles and breakthroughs in his thirty years as a Zen monk. When Whalen died in 2002 as the retired Abbot of the Hartford Street Zen Center, his own teacher referred to him as a patriarch of the Western lineage of Buddhism. Crowded by Beauty chronicles the course of Whalen’s life, focusing on his unique, eccentric, humorous, and literary-religious practice.

Praise For Crowded by Beauty: The Life and Zen of Poet Philip Whalen

"With this book, Schneider has opened the window on a man who was not originally one of the 'famous Beats' but who may find a posthumous place in the new generation’s pantheon."
— Shambhala Times

"An unconventional man deserves an unconventional biography . . . . A major figure in both American poetry and the growth of Zen Buddhist practice in America, Whalen was brilliant, erudite, humorous, earthy yet chaste, improvident, as lovable to those who knew him as he probably will be, thanks to Schneider, to those who read about him." - STARRED
— Booklist

"If Whalen was a poet’s poet, then Schneider’s book is a biographer’s biography. . . . Schneider, who was ordained as a Zen priest in 1977, writes with verve and precision, and draws creatively on Whalen’s unpublished journals and voluminous correspondence. Quotations are woven into the text and make for lively reading."
— San Francisco Chronicle

"The whole book is a must-read."
— The Allen Ginsberg Project

"Not only one of the most keenly observed books on the Beats ever published, but it’s also a fascinating exploration of the life and dharma of one of the first American-born Zen teachers."
— Steve Silberman

"One garners from this well written and sensitive biography of a key American author a sense of the energy and openness of the whole Beat and San Francisco Poetry Renaissance of the 1950s to 1970s."
— Larry Smith

"Crowded by Beauty serves as a reminder that among all the celebrity and cachet of rebelliously prescient intellects, the one most radical in his approach to American poetry has been overlooked."
— Pat Nolan

University of California Press, 9780520247468, 352pp.

Publication Date: July 26, 2015

About the Author

David Schneider is the author of Street Zen: The Life and Work of Issan Dorsey. He was ordained as a Zen priest in 1977 and was made an acharya of the Shambhala lineage in 1995.