May Swenson was born in Logan, Utah, in 1919. She attended Utah State University, Logan, and received a bachelor's degree in 1939. She taught poetry at Bryn Mawr, the University of North Carolina, the University of California at Riverside, Purdue University and Utah State University and was an editor at New Directions publishers from 1959 to 1966. Her poems appeared in Antaeus, The Atlantic Monthly, Carleton Miscellany, The Nation, The New Yorker, Paris Review, Parnassus and Poetry. She served as a Chancellor of The Academy of American Poets from 1980 to 1989. She died in Oceanview, Delaware,in 1989.
Her first book of poems, Another Animal, appeared in 1954, followed by A Cage of Spines (1958), and To Mix with Time New and Selected Poems (1963). From 1959 to 1966, she served as editor at New Directions publishers and taught poetry at Bryn Mawr, the University of North Carolina, the University of California, Riverside, Purdue University, and Utah State University. Though much of her later poetry is devoted to children, she also published translations of contemporary Swedish poets, including the collection Iconographs (1970) and the selected poems of Tomas Transtromer.
A recipient of numerous grants and fellowships-among them a Guggenheim, a Ford Foundation Poet-Playwright Grant, an Amy Lowell Poetry Traveling Scholarship, and a Robert Frost Fellowship-she was a member of the National Institute of Arts and Letters and served as chancellor of The Academy of American Poets from 1980 until her death in 1989. According to critic Harold Bloom, she ranks with Marianne Moore and Elizabeth Bishop as one of the three best women poets of the twentieth century.