Born in California on September 21, 1945, Kay Ryan grew up in the small towns of the San Joaquin Valley and the Mojave Desert. She received both a bachelor's and master's degree from UCLA.
Ryan has published several collections of poetry, including The Best of It: New and Selected Poems (Grove Press, 2010), for which she won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 2011; The Niagara River (2005); Say Uncle (2000); Elephant Rocks (1996); Flamingo Watching (1994), which was a finalist for both the Lamont Poetry Selection and the Lenore Marshall Prize; Strangely Marked Metal (1985); and Dragon Acts to Dragon Ends (1983).
About her work, J. D. McClatchy has said: "Her poems are compact, exhilarating, strange affairs, like Erik Satie miniatures or Joseph Cornell boxes. She is an anomaly in today's literary culture: as intense and elliptical as Dickinson, as buoyant and rueful as Frost."
Ryan's awards include a National Humanities Medal, the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, a Guggenheim Fellowship, an Ingram Merrill Award, a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Union League Poetry Prize, the Maurice English Poetry Award, and three Pushcart Prizes. Her work has been selected four times for The Best American Poetry and was included in The Best of the Best American Poetry 1988-1997.
Ryan's poems and essays have appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Poetry, The Yale Review, Paris Review, The American Scholar, The Threepenny Review, Parnassus, among other journals and anthologies. She was named to the “It List” by Entertainment Weekly and one of her poems has been permanently installed at New York’s Central Park Zoo. Ryan was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 2006. In 2008, Ryan was appointed the Library of Congress's sixteenth Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry. Since 1971, she has lived in Marin County in California.