Born in Massachusetts in 1939, Joan Larkin received her BA from Swarthmore College. She went on to earn her MA in English from the University of Arizona, and her MFA in playwriting from Brooklyn College.
Larkin's first collection, Housework, was published by Out & Out Books in 1975. Her third book, Cold River (Painted Leaf Press, 1997), won the Lambda Literary Award. Her other collections include A Long Sound (Granite Press, 1986), Sor Juana's Love Poems/Poemas de Amor (in Spanish and English, University of Wisconsin Press, 1997), and My Body: New and Selected Poems (Hanging Loose Press, 2007), for which she won the Audre Lorde Award for Lesbian Poetry. She has also co-edited three poetry anthologies: Amazon Poetry (Out & Out Books, 1975), Lesbian Poetry (Persephone Press, 1980), and Gay and Lesbian Poetry in Our Time (St. Martin's Press, 1988).
Critics and poets alike have praised Larkin's poems: Marie Ponsot has remarked on their "probing language" (Marie Ponsot) and Gerald Stern has heralded Larkin's "overwhelming…honesty". Julie R. Enszer has described Larkin's poems as "expansive in subject matter and their location in time and place, but they are grounded in the things that make poetry strong: images, new and startling observations like the consistency of a person's ashes and the excavation of significant relationships."
Larkin is the 2011 recipient of the Academy of American Poets Fellowship. In addition to the Lambda and Audre Lorde Awards, Larkin's honors include a nomination for a Publishing Triangle Award, a second Lambda Literary Award for nonfiction in 2000, and fellowships in poetry and playwriting from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, the New York Foundation for the Arts, and the National Endowment for the Arts.
Larkin has taught at Brooklyn College, Sarah Lawrence College, Goddard College, and Columbia College Chicago. She currently teaches at the MFA Program in Poetry Writing at Drew University.