On November 20, 1913, John Frederick Nims was born in Muskegon, Michigan. He was educated at DePaul University, the University of Notre Dame, and the University of Chicago, where he received his PhD in 1945. By that time, he had already distinguished himself as a poet and critic through his contributions to Five Young American Poets (1944) and his reviews of early works by Robert Lowell and W. S. Merton. He went on to teach English at numerous colleges and universities, among them Harvard University, the University of Florence, the University of Toronto, the Bread Loaf School of English, Williams College, and the University of Missouri. Nims was also an extremely influential editor of Poetry magazine from 1978 to 1984.
His books of poetry include Zany in Denim (University of Arkansas Press, 1990); The Six-Cornered Snowflake and Other Poems (1990); The Kiss: A Jambalaya (1982); Knowledge of the Evening (1960), which was nominated for a National Book Award; A Fountain in Kentucky (1950); and The Iron Pastoral (1947).
He is also the author of many translations, most famously Sappho to Valery: Poems in Translation (1971), as well as several critical works and a widely used textbook, Western Wind: An Introduction to Poetry (1983).
Among his honors are an American Academy of Arts and Letters award, a National Foundation for the Arts and Humanities grant, and fellowships from the Academy of American Poets, The Guggenheim Foundation, and The Institute of the Humanities. Nims died suddenly on January 13, 1999 in Chicago, Illinois.