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Kenneth Rexroth Portrait

Born in South Bend, Indiana, Kenneth Rexroth moved to Chicago with his family at age twelve. Although he attended classes at Chicago's Art Institute and later at the Art Students League in New York, he was largely (and prodigiously) self-educated. He would learn several languages, translate poems from the Chinese, French, Spanish, and Japanese, and exhibit his own paintings in several cities. He also worked early on as a fruit picker, a forest patrolman, a factory hand, and an attendant at a mental institution. Later he was a columnist for the San Francisco Examiner and the San Francisco Bay Guardian and a teacher at several universities. Rexroth's long career and interesting life are not easy to represent fully. He was a fellow traveler of the Communist Party, a key figure in the West Coast anarchist movement, a conscientious objector in World War II, and a long-time Buddhist. His early political poetry is notable for its capacity for intellectual reflection; his nature poetry virtually established the genre in California. He championed a number of younger poets, including the Beats, and helped found several west coast cultural institutions.