Born in Brooklyn, New York, the son of a salesman, Peter Meinke attended Hamilton College in Clinton, New York, earning his B.A. in 1955. After serving in the U.S. Army from 1955 to 1957, he attended the University of Michigan, earning his M.A. in 1961, and the University of Minnesota, receiving his Ph.D. in literature in 1965. In 1957, he married artist Jeanne Clark; the couple had four children. He taught English at a New Jersey high school and at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota, before beginning a long tenure at Presbyterian College (now Eckerd College) in St. Petersburg, Florida, where he directed the writing workshop until his retirement in 1993. Since his retirement, he has been writer-in-residence at more than two dozen institutions, including the University of Hawaii; Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tennessee; the University of North Carolina at Greensboro; Old Dominion University; and Converse College in Spartanburg, South Carolina. He has also served as the first Thurber journalist-in-residence at the James Thurber House in Columbus, Ohio. Eckerd College made him a founding member of the Zeta Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa in 2004 and awarded him the degree of doctor of humane letters in 2007. In 2008, the college created the Peter Meinke Endowed Chair in Creative Writing.