Michael S. Harper was born in Brooklyn, New York, on March 13, 1938. He earned a BA and MA from what is now known as California State University, and an MFA from the University of Iowa.
He has published more than ten books of poetry, most recently Selected Poems (ARC Publications, 2002); Songlines in Michaeltree: New and Collected Poems (2000); Honorable Amendments (1995); and Healing Song for the Inner Ear (1985).
His other collections include: Images of Kin (1977), which won the Melville-Cane Award from the Poetry Society of America and was nominated for the National Book Award; Nightmare Begins Responsibility (1975); History is Your Heartbeat (1971), which won the Black Academy of Arts & Letters Award for poetry; and Dear John, Dear Coltrane (1970), which was nominated for the National Book Award.
About Songlines in Michaeltree, a review in Publisher's Weekly said: "Harper has eschewed neither the personal, political nor the lyrical, but consistently forged a middle road from the multiple intersections of memory and experience, music and language, oppression and achievement ... His elegiac meditations on jazz legends such as John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, and Bud Powell are well known, and his use of repetition and lyric fragmentation displays the influence of not only that supercharged idiom, but the slower-paced traditions of African-American blues, gospel, and folk music. Harper's writing, however, derives only in part from these traditions, and the many finely honed narratives in this collection display the influence of poets as diverse of Yeats, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Elizabeth Bishop."
Harper edited the Collected Poems of Sterling A. Brown (1980); he is co-editor with Anthony Walton of The Vintage Book of African American Poetry (2000) and Every Shut Eye Ain't Asleep: An Anthology of Poetry by African Americans Since 1945 (1994), and with Robert B. Stepto of Chant of Saints: A Gathering of Afro-American Literature, Art, and Scholarship (1979).
He was the first poet laureate of the state of Rhode Island (1988-1993) and has received many other honors, including a fellowship from the Guggenheim Foundation and a National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Award. Michael S. Harper is a professor of English at Brown University, where he has taught since 1970. He lives in Barrington, Rhode Island.