Born on May 12, 1903, Lorine Niedecker was raised in Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin. Her father, Henry Niedecker, was a commercial fisherman who rented hunting and fishing cabins. Niedecker attended Beloit College for two years but returned home to help take care of her deaf and ailing mother, Theresa.
Niedecker lived most of her life on Blackhawk Island, along the banks of the Rock River near Lake Koshkonong in Wisconsin. She worked as a library assistant from 1928 to 1930, as a writer of the Wisconsin Guide in the Federal Writers' Project from 1938 to 1942, as stenographer and proofreader for Hoard's Dairyman, and as a cleaning woman at Fort Atkinson Memorial Hospital from 1957 to 1962. She married Frank Hartwig when she was twenty-five, but they separated two years later. Niedecker married Al Millen when she was sixty. In 1964, she moved into Millen's house in Milwaukee.
Her poems did not receive wide critical attention until late in her life. In part, this was a result of her geographic and cultural isolation. Niedecker was also naturally reticent. Many of her relatives and neighbors didn't know that she wrote poetry. Her first collection, New Goose (1946), was published by a very small press, and her second collection, My Friend Tree (1962), was published in England.
Her early work was most influenced by Imagist and Objectivist poets, including Ezra Pound and Louis Zukofsky. Zukofsky was an early mentor to Niedecker and a lifelong correspondent. The influence of the Objectivist and Imagist schools gradually became less pronounced in her poems as she developed her own idiosyncratic voice and style. Niedecker wrote most often about the world around her on Blackhawk Island—her neighbors and family, history, and the local flora and fauna. In 1968, she published North Central.
Because of her often austere, vivid imagery, and spare language, many critics and readers have pointed to Niedecker's affinities with writers such as William Carlos Williams as well as with early Chinese and Japanese poets. She described her poetry as a "condensery." Although much of her work was overlooked during her lifetime, three volumes of poetry have been published since her death: Blue Chicory (1976), From This Condensery: The Complete Writings of Lorine Niedecker (1985), and The Granite Pail: The Selected Poems of Lorine Niedecker (1985).
Lorine Niedecker died on December 31, 1970.