Peter Cole was born in 1957 in Paterson, New Jersey. In 1975, he began his first two years of undergraduate study at Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts, and received his BA from Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts, in 1980. The following year, he moved to Jerusalem to study Hebrew.
He is the author of six poetry collections: Hymns & Qualms: New and Selected Poems and Translations (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2017), The Invention of Influence (New Directions, 2014), Things on Which I’ve Stumbled (New Directions, 2008), Rift (Station Hill Press, 1989), and Hymns & Qualms (Sheep Meadow Press, 1998). A fifth collection, What Is Doubled: Poems 1981–1989, was published in 2005 by Shearsman Books in the United Kingdom.
Of Cole, Edward Hirsch has said, “[He] is a true maker. His extraordinary learning is deep and personal, and his poems, like his translations, are powered by a large spiritual quest to link and light the world with words. He stands with amazement before great mysteries.”
Cole has also translated extensively from Hebrew literature, medieval and modern poetry in particular. He has translated Hebrew and Arabic writers such as Aharon Shabtai, Taha Muhammad Ali, and Yoel Hoffmann, and his anthology The Dream of the Poem (Princeton University Press, 2007), which painted a portrait through verse of the Jewish artistic and intellectual communities that flourished in medieval Muslim and Christian Spain, was the winner of the National Jewish Book Award and the American Association of Publishers’ R. R. Hawkins Award. His most recent book of translation, The Poetry of Kabbalah: Mystical Verse from the Jewish Tradition (Yale University Press, 2012), was winner of Poetry magazine’s John Frederick Nims Prize for Translation.
Cole’s other honors include fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation. He has also been the recipient of the PEN Award for Poetry in Translation, the American Library Association’s Sophie Brody Award, and the TLS Risa Domb/Porjes Translation Prize. In 2010, he received the Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and, in 2007, he was named a MacArthur Fellow.
Cole currently teaches at Yale University each spring. He divides his time between Jerusalem and New Haven, Connecticut.