Susan Howe was born in Boston, Massachusetts, on June 10, 1937. With the exception of a relatively brief period in Buffalo, New York, her childhood and adolescence were spent in Boston and Cambridge, where she attended the Beaver Country Day School, from which she was graduated in 1955. Also in 1955, she began a year’s study at the Gate Theater, Dublin, Ireland, acting and designing sets. From 1957 to 1961, she attended the Museum School of Fine Arts in Boston. She next took up residence in New York City, working as a painter and exhibiting her paintings at a number of galleries, including the Kornblee. In 1961, she married Harvey Quaytman, and their daughter Rebecca was born that same year. When her marriage ended in 1966, Howe began living with the sculptor David von Schlegell, and in 1967, their son Mark was born. The couple was married from 1976 to 1992, when Schlegell died.
In 1971, Howe moved to Guilford, Connecticut. From 1975 to 1980, she produced the program Poetry for WBAI, New York City’s Pacifica Radio station. In 1988-1989, she was Butler Fellow at the State University of New York, Buffalo. In 1990-1991, she was a visiting professor of writing at Temple University in Philadelphia. Howe was a professor of English at the State University of New York, Buffalo, from 1989 to 2007 and served as the Samuel P. Capen Chair of Poetry and the Humanities. She was the 2007 Sherry Memorial Visiting Poet at the University of Chicago. Her third husband, Peter Hewitt Hare, died in 2008. Howe served as the Anna-Maria Kellen Fellow for fall, 2009, at the American Academy in Berlin.