Willis Barnstone was born on November 13, 1927, in Lewiston, Maine. He earned his BA from Bowdoin College in 1948, his MA from Columbia University in 1956, and his PhD from Yale University in 1960, and also studied at the University of Mexico, the Sorbonne, and the University of London.
Barnstone began writing poetry at the age of twenty and in 1960 published his first collection of poems in the United States, From This White Island (Bookman). Barnstone is now the author of more than seventy books of poetry, literary criticism, and translations, including his most recent collections Mexico in My Heart: New & Selected Poems (Carcanet Press, 2015), Moonbook and Sunbook (Tupelo Press, 2014), ABC of Translation: Poems & Drawings (Black Widow Press, 2013), and Life Watch (BOA Editions, 2003). He has translated the work of Antonio Machado, Rainer Maria Rilke, Sappho, Pedro Salinas, and Wang Wei, as well as the New Testament in a version Harold Bloom called “a superb act of restoration.”
“[Barnstone’s] thought is of course the core, but with it come tones and over-tones, undertones even, from the poets whom he has so brilliantly, so sensitively translated from many languages. Their voices are there with his, with the poet who has such an ear for language that no subtlety escapes it,” wrote poet and publisher James Laughlin of Barnstone’s work.
Barnstone has taught at schools across the globe, including the Anavryta Classical Lyceum in Greece; Wesleyan University in Connecticut; Colgate University in New York, where he was the O’Connor Professor of Greek; and Indiana University, where he is Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Comparative Literature and Spanish.
The recipient of the New York State Council on the Arts’s W. H. Auden Award, the Poetry Society of America’s Emily Dickinson Award, and a Guggenheim Fellowship, among other honors, Barnstone works as a full-time writer, and often gives poetry readings with his daughter and son, poets Aliki Barnstone and Tony Barnstone. He lives in Oakland, California.