Galway Kinnell was born in 1927 in Rhode Island. Feeling, after college, "a certain scorn that there could be a course in writing poetry," as he put it, Kinnell did not go on to study poetry and writing, but joined the U.S. Navy and then traveled the world on his own, spending time as a teacher and journalist in Iran before accepting a Fulbright Fellowship, which he served out in Paris. He published his first book of poems, What a Kingdom It Was, in 1960. Kinnell returned to the United States to join the civil rights movement, going to Louisiana as a field worker for CORE (Congress of Racial Equality). He also protested against the U.S. war in Vietnam. His experiences as an activist fueled two books of poetry, Body Rags (1968) and The Book of Nightmares (1971). He continued to publish regularly over the following decades, winning both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book award for his 1982 book Selected Poems. Kinnell taught at many colleges and universities, including the University of California at Irvine, Columbia University, Sarah Lawrence College, and New York University.
When asked about the power of poetry in today's society, Kinnell responds, "[While] poetry is rather invisible publicly, it exerts a quite powerful influence on a very large number of individuals. In this way, it percolates up through the populace and, over time, may have a profound effect on who we are as a people and how we relate to each other and to other peoples and to other creatures."