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Mary Jo Salter was born in 1954 in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and grew up in Baltimore, Maryland. In 1976, she received her bachelor’s degree from Harvard University, where she studied with poet Elizabeth Bishop. She received her master’s degree from Cambridge University in 1978 and was awarded an honorary doctorate of letters from Amherst College in 2010.
Known as a leading figure of the New Formalism movement, Salter has published many collections of poems, including Nothing by Design (Alfred A. Knopf, 2013), A Phone Call to the Future (Alfred A. Knopf, 2008), and Open Shutters (Alfred A. Knopf, 2003). Poet Carolyn Kizer described Salter’s work as “poems of breathtaking elegance: in formal control, in intellectual subtlety, in learning lightly displayed.”
Salter is also the author of a children’s book, The Moon Comes Home (1989) and a play, Falling Bodies (2004), and her lyrics for jazz pianist and composer Fred Hersch resulted in the song cycle Rooms of Light, which premiered at Lincoln Center in 2007.
Her honors include fellowships from the Bogliasco Foundation, the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Rockefeller Foundation.
For twenty-three years, Salter taught at Mount Holyoke College, where she was eventually named the Emily Dickinson Senior Lecturer in the Humanities. She has served as an editor for the Atlantic Monthly and the New Republic, and was a coeditor of the fourth and fifth editions of The Norton Anthology of Poetry. She also served as the vice president of the Poetry Society of America from 1995 to 2007.
Currently, she is Krieger-Eisenhower Professor at The Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins University and lives in Baltimore.