Richard Howard was born an only child in Cleveland, Ohio, on October 13, 1929. His childhood home, which was well stocked with books, provided the youth with a strong literary foundation. His mother had attended Vassar and developed friends whose literary tastes influenced Howard. One of his mother’s friends, Ida Treat, a novelist who helped some French writers with their autobiographies, further interested the youth in the literary life. On a trip to Florida, an aunt from Vienna who lived with the Howard family taught the five-year-old Richard to speak French. In his teens, he continued to read avidly, and his literary interests included Greek mythology. At Columbia, he met a group of young poets, among them John Hollander, who furthered Howard’s interest in reading literature, especially poetry. Howard also developed a particular liking for the poetry of Ezra Pound, Marcel Proust, and W. H. Auden, who later became his mentor.
Howard earned a B.A. at Columbia University in 1951 and an M.A. the following year. A fellowship allowed him to continue his studies at the Sorbonne from 1952 to 1953. Returning to the United States, he worked as a lexicographer until 1957 and began translating, soon becoming a prolific and highly respected translator of French literature, focusing on important French authors.
Howard has served as poetry editor of several prestigious journals, including Poetry Review, New American Review, and The New Republic, and he was president of the PEN American Center from 1979 to 1980. He served as the poet laureate of New York State from 1994 to 1996. He has also taught at a number of prestigious universities. In 1983, he was the Luce Visiting Scholar at the Whitney Humanities Center at Yale; he taught writing at the University of Houston from 1987 to 1997. From Houston, he moved to New York City to teach in the writing program of the School of the Arts at Columbia. He also became editor of Paris Review and Western Humanities Review.