Barry Targan was born in Atlantic City, New Jersey, on November 30, 1932, to Albert Targan, a grocer, and Blanche Simmons Targan. He received his B.A. degree with a major in English from Rutgers University in 1954 and an M.A. degree from University of Chicago in 1955. He then served in the U.S. Army for two years. He married Arleen Shanken, an artist, in 1958, with whom he had two children. Targan received a Ph.D. degree in English from Brandeis University in 1962 and started a teaching career at Syracuse University. He has taught at the State University of New York at Cortand, Skidmore College, and, beginning in 1978, at the State University of New York at Binghamton.