Edgar Bowers was born in Rome, Georgia, to William Edgar Bowers and Grace Anderson Bowers. His father, who was from South Carolina, graduated from Clemson University, served in World War I, briefly taught at Virginia Polytechnic University, and ended his career as a nurseryman in Stone Mountain, Georgia. His mother was a graduate of Agnes Scott College and a native of Iowa. She was a schoolteacher and an accomplished painter. Bowers had one sister, Eleanor, who predeceased him.
Between 1943 and 1946, Bowers, who was a French and German major at the University of North Carolina, served in the U.S. Army with the 101st Airborne’s unit in counterintelligence. His role included service in Germany, where he acted as a translator and where he saw many scenes of devastation and despair. These would figure later in the sensibility of his poetry. After his tour ended, Bowers returned to finish his education on the G.I. Bill. He earned his B.A. in 1947 and enrolled in the Stanford M.A. program, where he would study with poet-critic Yvor Winters. He earned his degree in 1949 and followed that with a Ph.D. from Stanford in 1953. Bowers went on to teach at Duke University and Harpur College. In 1958, he joined the English faculty at the University of California, Santa Barbara, from which he would retire in 1991. He then moved to San Francisco, where he died of lymphatic cancer on February 4, 2000.