Born in Cincinnati, Ohio, on November 11, 1942, William Matthews earned a BA from Yale University and an MA from the University of North Carolina.
During his lifetime he published eleven books of poetry, including Time & Money (1996), which won the National Book Critics Circle Award and was a finalist for the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize; Selected Poems and Translations 1969-1991 (1992); Blues If You Want (1989); A Happy Childhood (1984); Rising and Falling (1979); Sticks and Stones (1975); and Ruining the New Road (1970). Collections published posthumously include Search Party: Collected Poems, edited by his son Sebastian Matthews and Stanley Plumly (Houghton Mifflin, 2004) and After All: Last Poems (1998). He was also the author of a book of essays entitled Curiosities (1989).
William Matthews served as president of Associated Writing Programs and of the Poetry Society of America, and as a member and chair of the Literature Panel of the National Endowment for the Arts. He received fellowships from the Guggenheim and Ingram Merrill foundations, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund, and in April 1997 he was awarded the Ruth Lilly Prize. He taught at several schools, including Wells College, Cornell University, the University of Colorado, and the University of Washington. At the time of his death he was a professor of English and director of the creative writing program at New York's City College. He died of a heart attack on November 12, 1997, the day after his fifty-fifth birthday.