David Slavitt, the son of Samuel Saul Slavitt and Adele Beatrice Rytman Slavitt, was born in White Plains, New York. He attended Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, during which time he published his first poem, a parody of John Greenleaf Whittier’s “Snowbound,” in The Providence Journal. In 1952, he entered Yale University, where he studied with Cleanth Brooks, Robert Penn Warren, Richard Sewall, and Paul Weiss. Slavitt was Scholar of the House at Yale and followed William F. Buckley, Jr., as anchor of the Yale debate team. Slavitt graduated magna cum laude in 1956. That year he married Lynn Nita Meyer, with whom he had three children, Evan, Sarah, and Joshua. After divorcing Meyer in 1977, Slavitt married Janet Lee Abraham, a physician, in 1978.
In 1957, Slavitt received an M.A. at Columbia University, writing his master’s thesis on the poetry of Dudley Fitts, who had taught Slavitt at Phillips Academy. Slavitt taught in the English Department of Georgia Technological University in 1957-1958 prior to taking a job at Newsweek. Since then, Slavitt has taught, lectured, given poetry readings, and led writing workshops at such institutions as Yale, Harvard University, Bennington College, Hollins College, the University of Texas, American University, the Folger Shakespeare Library, and the Library of Congress. In 1977, he was a visiting lecturer at the University of Maryland; from 1978 to 1980, he was a visiting associate professor at Temple University. In the years since, he has taught at Columbia and Rutgers, and in 1991, he began his tenure teaching English and classics at the University of Pennsylvania. In 2006, he was a Republican candidate for the Massachusetts state legislature but was defeated in a landslide.