Sharon Olds was born in 1942 in San Francisco. She was raised as a "hellfire Calvinist." After graduating from Stanford University she moved east to earn a Ph.D. in English from Columbia University. Olds teaches creative writing at New York University. Olds has been the recipient of many awards including the San Francisco Poetry Center Award, the Lamont Poetry Prize, The National Books Critics Circle Award, and the T. S. Eliot Prize.
Her book, The Wellspring (1996), shares with her previous work the use of raw language and startling images to convey truths about domestic and political violence, sexuality, family relationships, and the body. The reviewer for The New York Times hailed Olds's poetry for its vision: "Like Whitman, Ms. Olds sings the body in celebration of a power stronger than political oppression."
Her first collection, Satan Says (1980), received the inaugural San Francisco Poetry Center Award. The poems explore intensely personal themes with unflinching physicality, enacting what Alicia Ostriker describes as an "erotics of family love and pain."(28). Olds’ second volume, The Dead and the Living, won the 1983 Lamont Poetry Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award. Following The Dead and the Living, Olds published The Gold Cell, (1987) The Father, (1992), The Wellspring, (1996), Blood, Tin, Straw, (1999), and The Unswept Room, (2002). The Father, a series of poems about a daughter’s loss of her father to cancer, was shortlisted for the T. S. Eliot Prize and was a finalist for The National Book Critics’ Circle Award. In the words of Michael Ondaatje, her poems are "pure fire in the hands." Olds’ work is anthologized in over 100 collections, ranging from literary/poetry textbooks to special collections. Her poetry has been translated into seven languages for international publications. She was the New York State Poet Laureate for 1998-2000.