Gjertrud Cecelia Schnackenberg, the daughter of Walter Charles Schnackenberg and Doris Strom Schnackenberg, was born in Tacoma, Washington, on August 27, 1953. The Schnackenberg family is of Norwegian ancestry and Lutheran heritage. Gjertrud was raised in the Lutheran Church and throughout her literary career has shown a great familiarity with and affinity for the beliefs and language of Christianity. She has also made extensive use of historical personages and events, especially from classical Greece and Rome; her father was a professor of Russian and medieval history at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma.
Her father died in 1973, and his passing had a profound impact on Schnackenberg, who has fashioned a number of poems from her memories of him. Among these are “Bavaria,” about their trip to Europe in 1962, “The Lamplit Answer,” the title poem of her second volume, and “Laughing with One Eye,” a series of exquisitely wrought elegies composed in 1977 and one of Schnackenberg’s most important early works.
Schnackenberg had begun writing poetry when she was nineteen and a student at Mount Holyoke, the year before her father died. She graduated from Mount Holyoke in 1975 and soon won a series of prestigious fellowships and awards. Her first book, the slim volume Portraits and Elegies, was published in 1982. This was followed three years later in 1985 with The Lamplit Answer.
On October 5, 1987, she married Robert Nozick, a noted professor of philosophy at Harvard. After the appearance of The Lamplit Answer, Schnackenberg published little poetry and only a few essays until 1992. In June, 1992, she published “A Gilded Lapse of Time” in The New Yorker; later that year, a book of verse with the same title appeared. She then added another volume of new work, The Throne of Labdacus and a collection of her earlier verse, Supernatural Love. Her husband, Nozick, died in 2002. She published Heavenly Questions in 2010.