Born in Muskegon, Michigan, John Frederick Nims attended a private high school in Chicago and spent two years at De Paul University before transferring to Notre Dame to take his bachelor of arts degree, with a double major in English and Latin, in 1937. After taking his master of arts degree from Notre Dame in 1939, he taught there until 1958, with periodic excursions abroad to teach at the University of Toronto (1945-1946), at Bocconi University in Milan (1952-1953), and at the University of Florence (1953-1954). While at Notre Dame, he pursued postgraduate work at the University of Chicago, in 1945 earning his Ph.D. in comparative literature, with an emphasis on the history and theory of Greek, Latin, French, and English tragedy; his special interest was the English stage of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. During this period, Nims began his long association with the distinguished magazine Poetry, serving from 1946 to 1950 as associate editor. He later was visiting editor of that publication in 1960-1961 and editor from 1978 to 1984.
After leaving Notre Dame, Nims taught at the University of Madrid (1958-1960), at Harvard University (1964, 1968-1969, and the summer of 1974), at the University of Illinois at Urbana (1961-1965), at the University of Florida at Gainesville (1973-1977), at Williams College (1975), at the College of Charleston (1981), and the University of Illinois at Chicago Circle (1965-1973, 1977-1985). He served as an instructor at the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference (1958-1971) and at the Bread Loaf School of English (1965-1969).
Nims died suddenly in 1999 and was survived by his wife, Bonnie Larkin, a son, and two daughters. A few weeks before, he had sent his editors revisions for a new edition of his acclaimed introduction to poetry, Western Wind.