On April 27, 1934, Jean Valentine was born to John W. Valentine and Jean Purcell Valentine in Chicago, Illinois. When she was three, her family moved to New York State. Seven years later, her father returned from serving in the U.S. Navy during World War II, but he had what would later be known as post-traumatic stress syndrome. The ramifications for the Valentine family were psychological instability, frequent moves, and emotional uncertainty. The only consistent stability in the young Valentine’s life was a summer retreat, referred to as “the farm.” It provided a sanctuary of calm and solace for the young poet, for it was there she found aunts and uncles who treated her as though she were a beloved grandchild. The family moved to Massachusetts, where Valentine attended Milton Academy for Girls’ School. She entered Radcliffe College in 1952 and majored in English. In 1956, while she was still a student, her composition “Poem” was published in The Harvard Advocate. She graduated cum laude.
In 1957, Valentine married a man three years her senior, James Clark Chace, a leading foreign-policy historian and author. The couple had two daughters, Sarah (born 1958) and Rebecca (born 1960), before being divorced in 1968.
In her late thirties, Valentine faced a watershed moment. A fear of the darker elements of poetry seeped into her consciousness, and she worried that it was the darkness that historically had driven poets to commit suicide. She sought professional guidance to help her deal with the fear and her alcoholism. She did not write from 1982 to 1987.
In 1989, Valentine went to Ireland to live with abstract painter Barrie Cook. They married in 1991. Following their divorce in 1996, Valentine returned to her longtime home, New York City. A respected teacher, Valentine has instructed students at Sarah Lawrence College; held workshops at Swarthmore College, Yale University, and the Ninety-Second Street Y in New York City; and led graduate writing programs for New York University and Columbia University.