Robert Pinsky

poet laureate icon
1940 –
Poet Laureate of the United States, 1997–2000

Robert Pinsky was born on October 20, 1940 in Long Branch, New Jersey. He received a BA from Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, and earned both an MA and PhD in philosophy from Stanford University, where he was a Stegner Fellow in creative writing and studied under the poet and critic Yvor Winters.

Pinsky is the author of numerous collections of poetry, including Proverbs of Limbo (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2024); Selected Poems (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011); Gulf Music: Poems (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2007); Jersey Rain (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2000); The Figured Wheel: New and Collected Poems 1966–1996 (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1996), which received the 1997 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize and was a Pulitzer Prize nominee; The Want Bone (Ecco Press, 1990); History of My Heart: Poems (Farrar, Straus & Girous, 1984); An Explanation of America (Princeton University Press, 1979); and Sadness and Happiness (Princeton University Press, 1975).

Pinsky is also the author of several prose titles, including his memoir Jersey Breaks: Becoming an American Poet (W. W. Norton, 2022); Singing School: Learning to Write (and Read) Poetry by Studying with the Masters (W. W. Norton, 2013); The Life of David (Schocken, 2006); Democracy, Culture, and the Voice of Poetry (Princeton University Press, 2002); The Sounds of Poetry: A Brief Guide (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1998), which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award; Poetry and the World (HarperCollins, 1988); and The Situation of Poetry: Contemporary Poetry and Its Traditions (Princeton University Press, 1976). In 1984, he also released a computerized novel, Mindwheel: An Electronic Novel (Synapse Software).

Pinsky has published two acclaimed works of translation: The Inferno of Dante (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1994), which was a Book-of-the-Month-Club Editor’s Choice, and received both the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and the Harold Morton Landon Translation Award; and The Separate Notebooks (HarperCollins, 1984) by Czeslaw Milosz (with Renata Gorczynski and Robert Hass).

About Pinsky’s work, the poet Louise Glück has said, “Robert Pinsky has what I think Shakespeare must have had: dexterity combined with worldliness, the magician’s dazzling quickness fused with subtle intelligence, a taste for tasks and assignments to which he devises ingenious solutions.”

From 1997 to 2000, Pinsky served as the United States poet laureate and consultant in poetry to the Library of Congress. During that time, he founded the Favorite Poem Project, a program dedicated to celebrating, documenting, and encouraging poetry’s role in Americans’ lives.

In 1999, he co-edited Americans’ Favorite Poems: The Favorite Poem Project Anthology (W. W Norton, 2000) with Maggie Dietz. Other anthologies he has edited include An Invitation to Poetry (W. W. Norton, 2004); Poems to Read: A New Favorite Poem Project Anthology (W. W. Norton, 2002); and Handbook of Heartbreak (HarperCollins, 1998).

His honors include an American Academy of Arts and Letters award, both the William Carlos Williams Award and the Shelley Memorial Prize from the Poetry Society of America, the PEN/Voelcker Award for Poetry, and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Pinsky has taught at both Wellesley College and the University of California, Berkeley, and is currently William Fairfield Warren Distinguished Professor at Boston University and director of its creative writing program. He has also served as poetry editor of the weekly webzine Slate. He was a Chancellor for the Academy of American Poets from 2004 to 2010. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.