William Matthews Biography


(Poets and Poetry in America)

“I used to have a morning paper route, played baseball and basketball, had a dog named Spot. Troy, Ohio.” So William Matthews writes in his autobiographical essay “Moving Around” (1976). Troy is a town of approximately twenty thousand located about seventy miles north of Cincinnati, where he was born in 1942. When Matthews’s father left his job with the Soil Conservation Service for a position with a student exchange program, the family moved back to Cincinnati. This move altered Matthews’s small-town view of the world at a crucial age of his life (about twelve). He visited Europe with his family and thereafter remained an avid traveler.

Sent to a boarding school in the Berkshire Hills of Massachusetts, he began writing poems, though he was not to become a serious poet until after his undergraduate days at Yale University, where he received his B.A. in 1965. Having married while at Yale, he moved to the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, where the couple’s two sons (William and Sebastian) were born and where he did graduate work, receiving his master’s degree in 1966. Also at North Carolina, he started the literary magazine Lillabulero, which ran between 1966 and 1974, and was codirector of Lillabulero Press.

After a year as instructor in the English department at Wells College (1968-1969), Matthews taught at Cornell University, where his first full-length collection, Ruining the New Road, was published in 1970, to be followed two years later by Sleek for the Long Flight. Following his divorce in 1974, Matthews moved to the University of Colorado, where he taught for a year. Between 1976 and 1980, he served as a member of the panel on literature for the National Endowment for the Arts, on the board of directors of the Associated Writing Programs, and as an advising editor for L’Épervier Press.

Between 1978 and 1983, Matthews taught as full professor and director of creative writing at the University of Washington. After that he became an editor for the Atlantic Monthly Press. Remarried, he settled in New York City, where he taught at the City University of New York and directed the creative writing program. He also served a term as president of the Poetry Society of America. Matthews died in New York City in 1997, the day after his fifty-fifth birthday.