Robert Hass is a native Californian whose poetry is well-known for its West Coast subjects and attitude. Born in San Francisco on March 1, 1941, Hass grew up in the Marin County suburb of San Rafael, where he attended a private Catholic school. His family included two figures who obviously affected his poetry: his older brother, who encouraged Robert to dedicate himself to writing; and his mother, whose alcoholism is a major subject in Hass's most recent book of poems Sun Under Wood (1996).
As a teenager, Hass was impressed by the burgeoning San Francisco Bay Area poetry scene of the 1950s. "I started out imagining myself as a novelist or essayist, but then Gary Snyder and Allen Ginsberg came along; and poetry, imbued with the whole lifestyle of the Beats, was much more exciting," he states in a 1996 Publishers Weekly interview with Michael Coffey. Sparked by the Beats, Hass's interest in poetry blossomed under the influence of East Asian literary traditions like Haiku and the locally-prominent work of San Francisco poet Kenneth Rexroth. In his essay "Some Notes on The San Francisco Bay Area As A Culture Region: A Memoir," Hass recognizes Rexroth as "the first one to teach me that there could be an active connection between poetry and my own world." Hass's intimate life-long connection with the lush Bay Area landscape has contributed greatly to the sensual geography of his poetry. As he grew older, radical politics also began shaping his poetics.
Hass married Earlene Leif in 1962 before graduating from St. Mary's College in Moraga, California in 1963. Their three children, Leif, Kristin, and Luke, were born while he worked on his M.A. (1965) and Ph.D. (1971) in English at Stanford University. Hass studied briefly with the poet and critic Yvor Winters at Stanford, and he made or renewed friendships there with poets John Matthias, James McMichael, John Peck, and Robert Pinsky. Hass began teaching literature and writing at the State University of New York at Buffalo in 1967. He went on to teach at his alma mater St. Mary's College of California from 1971 until 1989, when he joined the faculty at the University of California-Berkeley. His many honors include: the Yale Series of Younger Poets Award for his first book Field Guide in 1972, the William Carlos Williams Award for his second book Praise in 1979, the 1984 National Book Critics Circle Award in criticism for Twentieth Century Pleasures: Prose on Poetry, and the National Book Critics Circle Award in poetry for Sun Under Wood in 1996.
In addition to writing poetry, criticism, and translations, Hass has increasingly involved himself in public life over the course of his career. He became a well-known spokesman for literacy, poetry, and ecological awareness while serving two terms as U.S. Poet Laureate. From 1995-1997, he criss-crossed the country lecturing and working in what he has called "places where poets don't go," such as corporate boardrooms and civic groups. Currently, Robert Hass lives in Berkeley, California with his second wife, poet Brenda Hillman, whom he married in 1995.