Etheridge Knight was born in Corinth, Mississippi, in 1931. He dropped out of school at the age of sixteen and joined the military. While serving in Korea, he acquired a drug habit that followed him back to the states in 1951. In 1960, he was arrested for robbery and sentenced to eight years in the Indiana State Prison. It was here that Knight began writing poetry. He corresponded with other African American poets of the time like Dudley Randall and Gwendolyn Brooks.
He published his first book of poetry, Poems From Prison (1968), while he was still incarcerated. His book was a success and afterward he became deeply involved in the Black Arts Movement. Knight's other books and presentations were both popular and critically acclaimed, and throughout his career he received honors from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Poetry Society of America. He was also one of five Tennessee writers featured in the Memphis Public Library's Talking Leaves video series. Knight earned a bachelor's degree in American poetry and criminal justice from Martin Center University in Indianapolis in 1990, but only one year later in 1991, he died of lung cancer.