Carl Phillips was born on July 23, 1959, in Everett, Washington. His father, Carl Phillips, was a medic for the United States Air Force and his mother, Helen Elizabeth Phillips, was a painter and homemaker. Phillips’s early years were characterized by a sense of displacement as his family frequently moved to accommodate his father’s military assignments. He also confronted issues of racial identity at an early age as his father was African American and his mother, born in England, was white. This awareness of a dual identity would influence many of his later poems.
Growing up, Phillips did not aspire to be a poet. After completing high school, he studied biology and math at Harvard University. However, he soon found these subjects uninspiring and turned his attention to classical poetry. He was particularly drawn to the work of Sappho, and based on this newfound connection with poetry, he decided to major in Greek and Latin studies, receiving his degree in 1981. He completed graduate work in Latin and classical humanities at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst in 1983. During this period, he also taught high school Latin and continued to do so for almost eight years.
He began writing poetry between 1988 and 1990 when he was coming to terms with his homosexuality. He decided to enroll in a poetry writing class, where his instructor felt that Phillips’s work showed promise. He was advised to apply for a state grant that aided new...
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