Michael Collier grew up during the boom years of post-World War II prosperity in a comfortable upper-middle-class Catholic family, the son of a homemaker and a military pilot who became a salesman. Collier attended a parochial school in Arizona and a Jesuit high school. After graduating from Connecticut College in 1976, where he had studied with poet William Meredith, Collier received his master’s degree from the University of Arizona in 1979.
During his education, Collier held a number of odd jobs, including house painting and plumbing, that contributed both to his compassion for ordinary people and to his fascination with technology, specifically the intricate systems of everyday machines. For two years following graduation, he lived in London and traveled to “exotic” lands. He experienced strikingly different cultures, visiting Africa, Japan, and even Siberia.
After returning to the United States, Collier moved to the East Coast in the early 1980’s to serve as the director of poetry programs for the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C., before joining the English Department of the University of Maryland, College Park, in 1984. He became that institution’s director of creative writing. He began publishing poetry in the mid-1980’s and met with immediate critical praise for a distinctive verse style recognized for its maturity, exquisite music, and graceful subtleties. While at Maryland, he accepted a number of visiting professorships at universities, including Johns Hopkins and Yale. In 1992, he joined the faculty of the creative writing program at Warren Wilson College in North Carolina.
In 1992, Collier began his association with the prestigious Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference and was named its sixth director in 1995, a post previously held by, among others, Robert Frost and John Ciardi. As editor of three critically lauded anthologies of contemporary American poetry, Collier has established himself as an important critical voice. He became the editorial consultant for poetry for publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. He married Kathleen Branch, a librarian, in 1981, and together they had two sons.