Ellen Bryant Voigt was born and raised on a farm in Virginia. As a child, she showed an aptitude for music and began playing the piano. Initially a music major, Voigt attended Converse College for its music conservatory, but eventually she shifted her studies to literature and poetry. She went on to receive an MFA from the University of Iowa.
She is the author of several collections of poetry, most recently Headwaters: Poems (W. W. Norton, 2013); Messenger: New and Selected Poems 1976-2006 (W. W. Norton, 2007); Shadow of Heaven (W. W. Norton, 2002), which was a finalist for the National Book Award; Kyrie (W. W. Norton, 1995), a finalist for the National Book Critic's Circle Award; Two Trees (W. W. Norton, 1992); The Lotus Flowers (W. W. Norton, 1987); The Forces of Plenty (Carnegie Mellon University Press,1983); and Claiming Kin (Wesleyan University Press, 1976).
Her work as an editor includes Hammer and Blaze: A Gathering of Contemporary American Poets (University of Georgia Press, 2002) with Heather McHugh; The Flexible Lyric (University of Georgia Press, 2001), a collection of essays on craft; and Poets Teaching Poets: Self and the World (University of Michigan Press, 1996) with Gregory Orr, a collection of essays on the craft and relevance of poetry. She has also contributed photography for Kathleen Peirce's book of poetry, Mercy (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1991).
Voigt's earlier work was praised by Stanley Kunitz for its "sense of mutability and loss, an abiding set of loyalties, and a fierce attachment to the land." More recently, Philip Levine noted that her poems "are driven forward by lyrical restraint and by a ferocity of attention... Her writing has achieved the ambition of great poetry, the contact baptism of newly created things."
Voigt's honors include the 2002 Fellowship from the Academy of American Poets, a Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund Fellowship, and the 2002 O. B. Hardison Jr. Poetry Prize, as well as grants from the Vermont Council on the Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the MacArthur Foundation.
In 1976, she developed and directed the nation's first low-residency writing program at Goddard College in Plainfield, Vermont—a design for graduate MFA study that has since been emulated by many other colleges and universities. Since 1981 she has taught in the MFA program for writers at Warren Wilson College.
Voigt served as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets from 2003 to 2009. She lives in Cabot, Vermont, where she served as the Vermont State Poet from 1999 to 2003.
Headwaters: Poems (W. W. Norton, 2013)
Messenger: New and Selected Poems 1976-2006 (W. W. Norton, 2007)
Shadow of Heaven (W. W. Norton, 2002)
Kyrie (W. W. Norton, 1995)
Two Trees (W. W. Norton, 1992)
The Lotus Flowers (W. W. Norton, 1987)
The Forces of Plenty (Carnegie Mellon University Press,1983)
Claiming Kin (Wesleyan University Press, 1976)