Frank Stanford was born August 1, 1948, in Richton, Mississippi. In 1949, he was adopted by Dorothy Gilbert. In 1952, Gilbert married A. F. Stanford, a levee contractor, and the family moved to Arkansas. Stanford grew up in Memphis and the Ozarks of Arkansas.
In 1963, his father died, and Stanford began to attend the Benedictine Academy and Monastery in Subiaco, Arkansas. He entered the University of Arkansas in 1967, where he studied civil engineering and became involved in the Fayetteville literary community. His first poems appeared in journals such as Ironwood, Field, and American Poetry Review.
Stanford married twice. He and his first wife, Linda Mencin, lived in Fayetteville, Arkansas. In 1974 he married the painter Ginny Crouch, and they moved to Eureka Springs, Arkansas, where Stanford worked as a land surveyor. In the early '70s, he and his publisher, Irving Broughton, made a film about his life and work, It Wasn't A Dream, It Was A Flood. The film won the 1975 West Coast Film Festivals Best Experimental Film Award.
Stanford returned to Fayetteville in 1975 and lived with the poet C. D. Wright. He founded Lost Roads Publishers and continued to earn a living as a land surveyor. Between 1971 and 1977, seven volumes of his poetry were published, including The Singing Knives (1971), Ladies from Hell (1974), Field Talk (1975), Constant Stranger (1976), and The Battlefield Where the Moon Says I Love You (1977).
At the age of twenty-nine, on June 3, 1978, Frank Stanford died of self-inflicted gunshot wounds. Stanford's powerful imagination has been praised and elegized by many poets including Thomas Lux, James Dickey, and Franz Wright.