Born in Indianapolis, Indiana, on June 1, 1935, Clayton Eshleman earned a BA in philosophy and an MA in creative writing, both from Indiana University. He is the author of more than thirty books, and his collections of poetry include Reciprocal Distillations (Hot Whiskey Press, 2007), Archaic Design (Black Widow Press, 2007), and An Alchemist with One Eye on Fire (Black Widow Press, 2006).
He has also published books of essays, prose, and interviews, including Companion Spider (Wesleyan University Press, 2002), Antiphonal Swing: Selected Prose, 1962-1987 (McPherson & Co., 1989) and Novices: A Study of Poetic Apprenticeship (Arundel Press, 1989).
From 1967 to 2000, Eshleman founded and edited two of the most seminal and highly-regarded literary magazines of the period. Twenty issues of Caterpillar appeared between 1967 and 1973. Selections from the magazine were collected as A Caterpillar Anthology (1971). In 1981, while Dreyfuss Poet in Residence at the California Institute of Technology, Eshleman founded Sulfur magazine. The forty-sixth and final issue of Sulfur, which received thirteen National Endowment for the Arts grants, was published in 2000, and The Sulfur Anthology, edited by Eshleman, was published in 2016 (Wesleyan University Press).
From 1979 to 1986, Eshleman was a regular reviewer for the Los Angeles Times Book Review, contributing fifty-one articles on books by Ashbery, Bishop, Milosz, Montale, Olson, Rilke, Whitman, and many others.
He has also been a full-time translator since the early 1960s. He is the main American translator of César Vallejo (with José Rubia Barcia) and of Aimé Césaire (with Annette Smith). He received the National Book Award in 1979 for his co-translation of César Vallejo's Complete Posthumous Poetry (University of California Press, 1980), and his translation of Vallejo's Trilce (Wesleyan University Press, 2000) was co-winner of the Academy of American Poets' 2001 Harold Morton Landon Translation Award. Eshleman has also translated books by Antonin Artaud, Bernard Bador, Michel Deguy, Vladimir Holan, and Pablo Neruda. With Gyula Kodolanyi, he edited and translated a book-length selection of post-World War II Hungarian poetry, which appeared in Sulfur 21.
Eshleman's awards and honors include a Guggenheim Fellowship, several fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, and several research fellowships from Eastern Michigan University. He is a professor emeritus at Eastern Michigan University, and he lives in Ypsilanti, Michigan.