Howard Stanley Nemerov was born in New York City on March 1, 1920, to David and Gertrude (Russek) Nemerov. His wealthy parents were also cultivated and saw to it that their son was well educated. They sent him first to the exclusive private Fieldston Preparatory School, where he distinguished himself as both scholar and athlete. Nemerov then entered Harvard University, where he began to write poetry, essays, and fiction. In his junior year, he won the Bowdoin Prize for an essay on Thomas Mann. Nemerov graduated in 1937 and immediately entered the Royal Air Force Coast Command as an aviator, based in England. Subsequently, he joined the Eighth United States Army Air Force, which was based in Lincolnshire. On January 26, 1944, Nemerov was married to Margaret (Peggy) Russell (a union that produced three sons, David, Alexander, and Jeremy Seth). In 1945, when he was discharged as a first lieutenant from the Air Force, the Nemerovs moved to New York City to settle into civilian life.
During this time, Nemerov chose, against his father’s will, to become a poet. This was an anguished decision, for tradition decreed that, as the only son, he should carry on the family business. As a “Jewish Puritan of the middle class,” Nemerov felt keenly the separation from custom. In his Journal of the Fictive Life (1965), he credits his emphasis on work to a “guilty acknowledgment that I became a writer very much against the will of my father.”
Because poetry customarily brings more pleasure than money, Nemerov left New York after a year to join the faculty at Hamilton College in Clinton, New York. In 1948, he became a member of the English department of Bennington College and taught there until, in 1966, he went to Brandeis University in Massachusetts. During his stay at Brandeis, Nemerov also held interim teaching appointments. He left Brandeis in 1969 to become the Hurst Professor of Literature at Washington University in St. Louis. He became Washington University’s Edward Mallinckrodt Distinguished University Professor of English in 1976. He completed a writer-in-residency at the University of Missouri at Kansas City in April, 1991, shortly before his death from cancer in July.