Luis Palés Matos was born on March 20, 1898, in Guayama, Puerto Rico, a small village with a predominantly black population. His father, Vicente Palés Anés, and his brothers, Vicente and Gustavo Palés Matos, were all poets laureate of Puerto Rico. His mother, Consuelo Matos Vicil, was also a poet. Vicente Palés Anés died in 1913, just after reciting his poem "El cementerio" (the cemetery). Luis Palés Matos read voraciously as a child and began writing poems at the age of thirteen. His self-published his first collection of poetry, Azaleas (1915) followed the modernist trend. It also depleted Palés's financial resources so that at age seventeen, he had to leave school to join the world of work. He supported himself variously, as a secretary, bookkeeper, journalist, civil servant, and teacher.
In 1918 Palés married Natividad Suliveres. They had a son, Eduardo, but the following year, Natividad died. Some of Palés's grief made its way into the poems of his second manuscript, El palacio en sombras (the darkened palace, 1919-20), which was not published. In 1921, Palés moved to San Juan, where he began sending his poems to magazines. With the writer Jose T. de Diego Padró, he created an avant-garde literary movement called "Diepalismo," (a combination of their names), which emphasized the musicality of language, especially through onomatopoeia. The movement produced one monaifesto and a single, collaboratively written poem: "Orquestación Deipálica," which was published in El Imparcial in 1921. In 1925, he collected Canciones de la vida media (songs at mid-life), another manuscript which was to remain unpublished.
In 1926, however, La Democracia published "Pueblo Negro" (black town), the first flowering of what was to become an influential and lasting movement: by blending rhythms, folklore, and words from African and Afro-Caribbean culture into the Spanish verse of Puerto Rico, Palés created a new genre of Latin American literature that came to be called Afro-Antillian poetry. In 1937, he published a collection of these poems as Tuntun de pasa y griferia (drumbeats of kink and blackness), which was recognized with an award from the Institute of Puerto Rican Literature. This collection also placed him, with Afro-Cuban poet Nicolas Guillén, as founder of the literary movement known as Negrismo. These poems also attracted some criticism toward Matos, who was white, for his appropriation of African elements. After Tuntún, he moved away from some of the Negrismo emphasis into more Antillean work that did not emphasize black themes. Luis Pales Matos is widely considered the most important lyric poet of Puerto Rico. His literary influence reached to the Greater Antilles, Panama, Colombia, Ecuador, Uruguay, and Venezuela. In 1949 he began writing love poems to a woman he addressed as "Finí-Melé." In 1957 he published Poesía, 1915-1956 (1957). Until the time of his death, in 1959, he served as lecturer to the Faculty of Humanities of the University of Puerto Rico. He died in Santurce, Puerto Rico, of a heart attack.