Archie Randolph Ammons was born outside Whiteville, North Carolina, on February 18, 1926. He started writing poetry aboard a U. S. Navy destroyer escort in the South Pacific. After completing service in World War II, he attended Wake Forest University and the University of California at Berkeley.
He went on to work as an elementary school principal, a real estate salesman, an editor, and an executive in his father's biological glass company before he began teaching at Cornell University in 1964.
Ammons published his first book of poems, Ommateum: With Doxology, in 1955. He went on to publish nearly thirty collections, including Bosh and Flapdoodle (W. W. Norton, 2005); Glare (1997); Garbage (1993), which won the National Book Award and the Library of Congress's Rebekah Johnson Bobbitt National Prize for Poetry; A Coast of Trees (1981), which received the National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry; Sphere (1974), which received the Bollingen Prize; and Collected Poems 1951-1971 (1972), which won the National Book Award.
About Ammons, the poet Richard Howard has said, "Ammons is our Lucretius, swerving and sideswiping his way into the nature of things, through domestic doldrums, cardinals and quince bushes, fields of sidereal force, out into what he so accurately calls 'joy's surviving radiance.'"
His honors included the Academy's Wallace Stevens Award, the Poetry Society of America's Robert Frost Medal, the Ruth Lilly Prize, and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, and the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
He lived in Ithaca, New York, where he was Goldwin Smith Professor of Poetry at Cornell University until his retirement in 1998. Ammons died on February 25, 2001.