Ron Padgett was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on June 17, 1942. He began writing at the age of thirteen and started a magazine in high school called The White Dove Review with friends Dick Gallup and Joe Brainard. In its five issues, the magazine published the work of Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Robert Creeley, LeRoi Jones (now Amiri Baraka), Ted Berrigan, and others.
In 1960, he moved to New York City, where he attended Columbia College and studied with Kenneth Koch and Lionel Trilling. Padgett later spent a year in Paris on a Fulbright fellowship where he studied French literature.
His first collection of poems, Bean Spasms (Kulcher Press), written with Ted Berrigan, was published in 1967. Since then he has published many books of poetry, including Big Cabin (Coffee House Press, 2019), Collected Poems (Coffee House Press, 2013), which received the William Carlos Williams Award from the Poetry Society of America and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in poetry, and How Long (Coffee House Press, 2011), which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.
He has also published a volume of selected prose titled Blood Work (Bamberger Books, 1993), as well as translations of Blaise Cendrars' Complete Poems (University of California Press, 1992), Pierre Cabanne's Dialogues with Marcel Duchamp (Viking Press, 1971), and Guillaume Apollinaire's The Poet Assassinated (Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1968).
Padgett is the recipient of the 2016 Harold Morton Landon Translation Award for Zone: Selected Poems by Guillaume Apollinaire (NYRB Poets, 2015). Judge Peter Cole said of Padgett’s winning translation:
Savvy, dexterity, boldness, tact—all click into quietly electric place in Zone, Ron Padgett’s masterfully textured collection of Apollinaire’s poems. “Fifty years of affection and respect” is how Padgett characterizes his lifelong engagement with that most classical of French modernists. Whatever else is behind it, one feels a fortuitous conjunction of source and sorcerer as a kind of base-line hum beneath these translations: “Men of the future remember my living / At a time when kingship was dying,” says Apollinaire-through-Padgett, the floating valence and melic spell linking the generations and their poets. For the high-wire artfulness of the rendered verse, for the honest smarts of his translator’s note, for the intelligent warmth of the annotation, for the sheer, informed joy of it all, Ron Padgett’s Zone: Selected Poems by Guillaume Apollinaire takes home this year’s Landon laurels.”
For his translations, Padgett has also received grants and awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York State Council on the Arts, and Columbia University’s Translation Center.
About Padgett's work, the poet James Tate wrote, "Ron Padgett's poems sing with absolutely true pitch. And they are human friendly. Their search for truths, both small and large, can be cause for laughter, or at least a thoughtful sigh."
Padgett was the editor-in-chief of World Poets, a three-volume reference book (Scribner, 2000). For twenty years Padgett was the publications director of Teachers & Writers Collaborative. He served as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets from 2008 to 2013. He lives in New York City.