Joseph Daniel McClatchy, Jr., known personally as “Sandy,” was born on August 12, 1945, in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. His family was well-to-do; his father was in business. McClatchy notes that his family was not a “literary family at all” (Hall), though it did provide him with an excellent education. His family was Catholic; he attended the Jesuit St. Joseph’s prep, and he credits the school for instilling in him a knowledge and admiration for the Greek and Latin classics. Later, he attended Georgetown University, graduating in 1967, and started graduate school at Yale University, originally intending to specialize in Renaissance literature. The Vietnam War interrupted his graduate studies, and he took up a position as instructor for three years at La Salle College, a small Catholic school in Philadelphia, in order to avoid the draft. During this time he read contemporary poetry prodigiously. McClatchy eventually returned to Yale, where he wrote his dissertation on the tradition of confessional poetry from Wordsworth to the 1970s.
McClatchy credits both his classical studies in high school and his English studies in graduate school (with, among others, the scholar Harold Bloom) for his knowledge of and belief in poetry. McClatchy also has had a remarkable gift for friendship. He has had close friendships with many of the twentieth century’s most well-known poets, including Anne Sexton, Robert Penn Warren, Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Lowell, and James Merrill.* His poetic and critical work has been very well received: He has won almost every major award a writer could win, including an O. Henry Award, the Eunice Tietjens Memorial Prize from Poetry, fellowships from the New York State Foundation for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Academy of American Poets, and the Guggenheim