August Kleinzahler was born in Jersey City, New Jersey, in 1949, and raised in Fort Lee, New Jersey. For six years, he commuted everyday, from New Jersey to New York, to attend the Horace Mann School in the Bronx. After high school, he attended the University of Wisconsin as an East Asian Studies major. He dropped out of Wisconsin, and finished his studies at the University of Victoria in British Columbia where he majored in English and studied with Basil Bunting, whom he considered a great hero.
Kleinzahler is the author of ten books of poetry, including: The Strange Hours Travelers Keep (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2004), winner of the International Griffin Poetry Prize; Live from the Hong Kong Nile Club : Poems: 1975-1990 (2000); Green Sees Things in Waves (1999); and Red Sauce, Whiskey and Snow (1995). He is also the author of one prose book, the meditative memoir Cutty, One Rock: Low Characters and Strange Places, Gently Explained (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2004).
In a blurb for an early volume of Kleinzahler's work, Allen Ginsberg wrote: "August Kleinzahler's verse line is always precise, concrete, intelligent and rare—that quality of 'chiseled' verse memorable in Basil Bunting's and Ezra Pound's work. A loner, a genius."
Kleinzahler was extolled for his double nature in a recent profile in the New York Times. Timothy Williams writes: "His work is a modernist swirl of sex, surrealism, urban life and melancholy, with a jazzy backbeat. His personality combines Allen Ginsberg's goofball charm and Norman Mailer's inveterate pugnacity." His poems are described as: "a reckless tumble of words mixing the high and the low, like a rummage sale after the death of someone who adored both Shakespeare and smut. People in the poems are in transition, unable to find their footing."
His honors include a fellowship from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Lila Acheson-Readerís Digest Award for Poetry, an Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a Berlin Prize Fellowship, the Griffin International Poetry Prize, and the post of poet laureate in Fort Lee, New Jersey.
Kleinzahler has lived in San Francisco, California, for over twenty years. He has held a variety of jobs, including working as a locksmith, cabdriver, lumberjack, music critic, and building manager. While living in Alaska, he designed educational kits for native children at the Alaska State Museum. He has taught writing at Brown University, the University of California at Berkeley, and the Iowa Writers' Workshop, as well workshops for homeless veterans in the Bay Area.