David Kirby was born in 1944 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Although his father was a professor of English at Louisiana State University and his mother a local teacher, the family also owned and maintained a working farm. He earned his bachelor’s degree at Louisiana State University in 1966 and a Ph. D. at The Johns Hopkins University in 1969. That same year, Kirby married Judy Kates. They had two sons, Will, born in 1973 (in Florence, Italy, while Kirby was teaching abroad), and Ian, born in 1979. Kirby was hired at Florida State University in 1969, where he has remained for his entire career. In addition to receiving awards as a professor, Kirby has also taught extensively in the university’s various international programs, spending semesters teaching in England, Florence, and Spain. In 1981, he was divorced from his first wife; he would later marry poet Barbara Hamby.
Although Kirby’s training was as a literary scholar, he nevertheless published his first book of poetry, The Opera Lover, with a small Tallahassee press in 1977. His second book, Sarah Bernhardt’s Leg, was published in 1983; this was followed by a small press publication of his textbook on writing poetry, Diving for Poems, which was later republished by Writer’s Press as Writing Poetry: Where Poems Come from and How to Write Them (1989, 1997). Throughout this time, Kirby was publishing scholarly works at a prolific rate, yet he still found time to dedicate to poetry. His career as a poet first gained acclaim with his winning of the Brittingham Prize in Poetry, an annual award presented by the University of Wisconsin.