Poet, translator, and jazz pianist Bill Zavatsky was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut. He earned his BA and MA from Columbia University, where he took classes with Kenneth Koch. Zavatsky also studied music at the New School in New York. He is the author of three collections of poetry: Where X Marks the Spot (2006), For Steve Royal and Other Poems (1985), and Theories of Rain and Other Poems (1975). Zavatsky is often grouped with second-generation New York School poets, and he has collaborated extensively with Ron Padgett. His work is influenced by urban life and his career as a pianist, and his poems have been used as liner notes by jazz musicians such as Bill Evans and Marc Copland.

Zavatsky translated poems by André Breton with Zack Rogow; that volume, Earthlight (1993), won the PEN/Book-of-the-Month Translation Prize. With Padgett, Zavatsky published a revised translation of The Poems of A.O. Barnabooth (2008), by Valery Larbaud. He has also translated the work of Robert Desnos.

Zavatsky has received numerous honors and awards for his work, including fellowships from the New York State Council on the Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the MacDowell Colony. He was named MacDowell Poet for 2007–2008.

Former editor of the literary independent press SUN, Zavatsky coedited the anthology The Whole Word Catalogue 2 (1977), also with Padgett. Zavatsky was a long-time high-school English teacher at the Trinity School in New York City until his retirement in 2011.