Biography (Critical Survey of Poetry: American Poets)
William Daniel Ehrhart was born in Roaring Spring, Pennsylvania, but spent his formative years in Perkasie, Pennsylvania, where his father was a minister. The third of four sons, Ehrhart excelled in school, but the escalating conflict in Vietnam left him feeling honor-bound to postpone college in favor of military service. Reminding his parents that they had not reared him “to let somebody else’s kids fight America’s wars,” he secured their reluctant permission to enlist in the Marine Corps at age seventeen, immediately following his high school graduation in June, 1966.
Ehrhart served in Vietnam with an infantry battalion from 1967 to 1968 and was wounded in the battle for Hue during the Tet Offensive of 1968. Discharged in 1969 with the rank of sergeant, he went on to Swarthmore College, where he became active in the antiwar movement and wrote his first published works before his graduation in 1973.
While still at Swarthmore, Ehrhart gained national recognition as a poet in Winning Hearts and Minds (1972), a collection of Vietnam War poetry dedicated to the cause of ending the United States’ involvement. Eight of Ehrhart’s early poems appeared in this collection.
After college, Ehrhart went to sea as a merchant marine and later tried both newspaper reporting and high school teaching along with earning an M.A. in creative writing at the University of Illinois at Chicago in 1978. He married in 1981, and in 1985, he made his home in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He earned a Ph.D. in 2000 from the University of Wales at Swansea, United Kingdom. Although he has occasionally taken short-term teaching assignments, he bills himself as an “independent scholar and teacher,” earning his living primarily through his writing and his speaking engagements.