Joyelle McSweeney was born in Boston and spent most of her childhood in suburban Philadelphia. She has a BA from Harvard University; an MPhil in English studies from Oxford University, where she was a Marshall Scholar; and an MFA from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop.
McSweeney’s collections of poetry include The Red Bird (2002), winner of the 2001 Fence Modern Poetry Series, and The Commandrine and Other Poems (2004). She is also author of the novels Nyland, the Sarcographer (2007) and Flet (2007).
In an interview McSweeney described what she called her “magpie-aesthetic,” apparent in The Red Bird, noting that “even when I’m not writing with overtly found materials, I think my brain works on language the same way—selecting, assembling, sounding out complexes and runs.” Matthew Henriksen commented on the technique in a review of The Commandrine and Other Poems: “Perspectives may diverge and take hold of their own visions. . . . McSweeney treats words, like images, as instances of their precise contents rather than symbolic references.”
Joyelle McSweeney is co-founder of www.actionyes.org, a web-based journal featuring international writing and hybrid forms, and Action Books, a press that publishes poetry and books in translation. She has taught at the University of Notre Dame and the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa.
In April 2014, Joyelle McSweeney was a featured writer for Harriet.