August Kleinzahler was born in Jersey City, New Jersey, in 1949, and raised in Fort Lee, New Jersey. After high school, he attended the University of Wisconsin as an East Asian studies major, but dropped out of Wisconsin and finished his studies at the University of Victoria in British Columbia where he majored in English and studied with Basil Bunting.
Kleinzahler is the author of eleven books of poetry, including The Hotel Oneira (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013); Sleeping It Off in Rapid City (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008); The Strange Hours Travelers Keep (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2004), winner of the International Griffin Poetry Prize; Live from the Hong Kong Nile Club: Poems, 1975-1990 (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000); Green Sees Things in Waves (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1999); and Red Sauce, Whiskey and Snow (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1995).
In a blurb for an early volume of Kleinzahler's work, Allen Ginsberg wrote: "August Kleinzahler's verse line is always precise, concrete, intelligent and rare—that quality of 'chiseled' verse memorable in Basil Bunting's and Ezra Pound's work. A loner, a genius." Writing for the New York Times, Timothy Williams described Kleinzahler’s work as “a modernist swirl of sex, surrealism, urban life and melancholy, with a jazzy backbeat. [His poems] are a reckless tumble of words mixing the high and the low, like a rummage sale after the death of someone who adored both Shakespeare and smut.”
His honors include a fellowship from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Lila Acheson-Reader’s Digest Award for Poetry, an Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a Berlin Prize Fellowship, the Griffin International Poetry Prize, and the post of poet laureate in Fort Lee, New Jersey.
In addition to poetry, Kleinzahler has written three books of prose: Sallies, Romps, Portraits, and Send-Offs: Selected Prose, 2000-2016 (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2017); Music: I-LXXIV (Pressed Wafer Press, 2009); and the meditative memoir, Cutty, One Rock: Low Characters and Strange Places, Gently Explained (FSG, 2004).
Kleinzahler has lived in San Francisco, California, for over twenty years. He has held a variety of jobs, including working as a locksmith, cabdriver, lumberjack, music critic, and building manager. While living in Alaska, he designed educational kits for native children at the Alaska State Museum. He has taught writing at Brown University, the University of California at Berkeley, and the Iowa Writers' Workshop, as well workshops for homeless veterans in the Bay Area.