In 1946, Michael Ryan was born in St. Louis, Missouri. He received a BA from the University of Notre Dame, an MA from Claremont Graduate University, and both an MFA and PhD from the University of Iowa. While studying at Iowa, he was the Poetry Editor of The Iowa Review.
Ryan's poetry manuscript, Threats Instead of Trees (1974), was selected by Stanley Kunitz for the Yale Series of Younger Poets and was a finalist that year for the National Book Award. His second collection of poems, In Winter (1981), was a National Poetry Series selection. Since then, Ryan has published two other collections of poetry, God Hunger (1989), which received the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize; and New and Selected Poems (Houghton Mifflin, 2004), which received the 2005 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award.
About Ryan's work, the critic William H. Pritchard said in The Nation: "Unlike too many poets who tumble into print at the first twitch of feeling, Ryan takes time to listen to himself, and such listening contributes immeasurably to the subtlety of his address to the reader. [He] reminds us on every page that poems can be about lives, and about them in ways most urgent and delicate."
Ryan is also the author of an autobiography, Secret Life (Pantheon Books, 1995), which was highly acclaimed and became a New York Times Notable Book. He has also written a memoir, Baby B (Graywolf Press, 2004), excerpted in The New Yorker, and a collection of essays about poetry and writing, A Difficult Grace (University of Georgia Press, 2000).
"Ryan shows himself to be a superior formalist—" the poet David Baker said in The Kenyon Review, "that is, subtle, effective, various—for whom formality is less a quality to flaunt than a necessary means of articulation and control, whose best work is severe and taut, and whose gift is to be able to turn the apparently personal into the public and important."
Ryan's honors include a Whiting Writers Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and two National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships. He has taught writing at the University of Iowa, Princeton University, the University of Virginia, the Warren Wilson College MFA Program, and the University of California, Irvine, where he has been a Professor of English and Creative Writing since 1990.
He currently lives in California with his wife, Doreen Gildroy, and their daughter, Emily.