Elaine Terranova was born in 1939 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where she came of age in a working class neighborhood. She received a bachelor's degree in English from Temple University in 1961 and an MFA from Vermont's Goddard College in 1977. In 1980, she published a chapbook of poems, Toward Morning/Swimmers (Hollow Spring Press).
Her first full-length collection, The Cult of the Right Hand (Doubleday, 1991), was chosen by Rita Dove as the winner of the 1990 Walt Whitman Award from the Academy of American Poets.
Since then, she has published Dames Rocket (Penstroke Press, 2012) Not To: New and Selected Poems (Sheep Meadow Press, 2006); The Dog's Heart (Orchises Press, 2002); and Damages (Copper Canyon Press, 1996). Terranova also translated a Greek play, Iphigenia at Aulis by Euripides (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1998), which was produced by the University of Kansas in 2002, and by the University of North Dakota in 2008.
About Terranova's first book, Dove wrote: "Elaine Terranova's streamlined poems belie their unsettling power. There is no gratuitious adornment here—instead, we find the moment apprehended purely, through the rare angle of detail we come to recognize as the poet's unspoiled dominion."
About Terranova's career, the poet Susan Stewart has said: "Over many decades now, Elaine Terranova's poems ... have opened the possibilities of perceiving, choosing, and concluding so consistently, and with a subtlety and economy so much her own, that they are truly beyond compare. There is a dark energy to her art, a force of negation and silence that is carried along at once consciously and unconsciously."
Her honors include fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, and the Pew Center for Arts & Heritage. She was the Banister Writer in Residence at Sweet Briar College in 1996. Her poetry has also been featured on NPR's All Things Considered, and in 2001, her poem, "The Choice," was selected in connection with the Poetry Society of America's Poetry in Motion project and appeared on buses and in subways throughout Philadelphia.
Terranova has been an editor and a teacher of creative writing, as well as an Artist in Education in Pennsylvania schools. She has served on the faculty of the University of Delaware, the Curtis Institute of Music, and Temple University.
She is currently on the faculty of the MFA in Creative Writing Program at Rutgers University, Camden, and teaches at the Community College of Philadelphia.