Ronald William Wallace grew up in St. Louis, Missouri. A voracious reader in grade school, his interest in writing began in fifth grade, when he started to keep a diary. He became interested in poetry in ninth grade when a weary teacher attempted to entertain her class by giving students poems to read. Reading Emily Dickinson, Wallace says he was moved though he did not understand the poems, nor did he think his friends would appreciate his newfound interest. After reading Dickinson, he said, “I wrote poetry in secret, I read poetry in secret, and I dreamed of one day being a real poet and writer.”
At the College of Wooster, Wallace enrolled in premedicine studies but found he liked only the English courses. After a breakup with a girlfriend, Wallace dealt with the pain by writing poetry and ultimately decided that he would become a poet.
After earning his Ph.D. but feeling uncommitted to teaching, Wallace and his wife spent a year in Europe, where he wrote poems, some of which appeared in his first book, Plums, Stones, Kisses, and Hooks, a work rejected by ninety-nine publishers before being accepted. He then published additional books of poetry, a number of chapbooks, works of literary criticism, and short stories. He once said that he was most interested in poets “who embrace the personal, the simple, the clear, the straightforward, the accessible. Many of these poets are exploring traditional forms and humor as a way of renewing poetry and possibly reaching a larger audience.” The statement aptly describes Wallace’s poetry as well.
Hired at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, for a one-year position, Wallace established himself there, founding Madison Review and building the creative writing program to six staff members and six fellows teaching in one of the few postgraduate fine arts programs in the United States. He became director of creative writing at Madison, director of the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing, and poetry editor for the University of Wisconsin Press.