Trevor A. Sydney
Shortly after his birth on October 13, 1929, Richard Howard was adopted by the Josephs, a prosperous and prominent Jewish family in Cleveland, Ohio. His adoptive parents inculcated in him an early love of the arts and actively nurtured his childhood fondness for books and poetry. After graduating from Shaker Heights High School in suburban Cleveland in 1947, Howard enrolled at Columbia University. In 1951 he was awarded a B.A. in French and English and an M.A. the following year. Subsequently he won a fellowship to study at the Sorbonne (1953–1954). The year in France enabled him to refine his command of the French language and develop his lifelong interest in French literature.
After Howard returned to the United States, he worked as a lexicographer for four years. During that time he began to write poetry and to translate major French literary texts to English. Soon he distinguished himself in both efforts. Now Howard, who has published eleven volumes of verse, ranks among the most accomplished contemporary American poets. His creative work has earned him numerous awards, including a Pulitzer Prize (1970) and a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, often called a “genius grant,” in 1996. In 1993 he was appointed the Poet Laureate of New York State. As a translator, his range and prolixity are astonishing: He has translated nearly 160 literary and theoretical works—including works by André Gide, Albert Camus, Simone de Beauvoir, and Roland Barthes—from French to English. He is a fine critic as well; his Alone with America is a wonderfully eccentric collection of essays on American poetry since 1950.
For ten years, beginning in 1987, Howard was a distinguished professor at the University of Houston. Currently he lives in New York City, serves as the poetry editor for The Paris Review, and teaches at Columbia University.