Mary Oliver was born on September 10, 1935 in Maple Heights, Ohio. As a teenager, she lived briefly in the home of Edna St. Vincent Millay, where she helped Millay's family sort through the papers the poet left behind.
In the mid-1950s, Oliver attended both Ohio State University and Vassar College, though she did not receive a degree.
Her first collection of poems, No Voyage, and Other Poems, was published in 1963. Since then, she has published numerous books, including A Thousand Mornings (Penguin Press, 2012); Swan: Poems and Prose Poems (Beacon Press, 2010); Red Bird (2008); Thirst (2006); Why I Wake Early (2004); Owls and Other Fantasies : Poems and Essays (2003); Winter Hours: Prose, Prose Poems, and Poems (Mariner Books, 1999); West Wind (1997); White Pine (1994); New and Selected Poems (1992), which won the National Book award; House of Light (1990), which won the Christopher Award and the L. L. Winship/PEN New England Award; and American Primitive (1983), for which she won the Pulitzer Prize.
The first part of her book-length poem The Leaf and the Cloud (Da Capo Press, 2000) was selected for inclusion in The Best American Poetry 1999 and the second part, "Work," was selected for The Best American Poetry 2000. Her books of prose include Long Life: Essays and Other Writings (2004); Rules for the Dance: A Handbook for Writing and Reading Metrical Verse (Mariner Books, 1998); Blue Pastures (1995); and A Poetry Handbook (1994).
"Mary Oliver's poetry is an excellent antidote for the excesses of civilization," wrote one reviewer for the Harvard Review, "for too much flurry and inattention, and the baroque conventions of our social and professional lives. She is a poet of wisdom and generosity whose vision allows us to look intimately at a world not of our making."
Her honors include an American Academy of Arts & Letters Award, a Lannan Literary Award, the Poetry Society of America's Shelley Memorial Prize and Alice Fay di Castagnola Award, and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts.
Oliver held the Catharine Osgood Foster Chair for Distinguished Teaching at Bennington College until 2001. She currently lives in Provincetown, Massachusetts.