Dave Oliphant was born in Fort Worth, Texas. He earned his BA from Lamar University, his MA from the University of Texas at Austin, and his PhD from Northern Illinois University. He is the author of numerous collections of poetry including Maria’s Poems (1987), which won an Austin Book Award; Memories of Texas Towns & Cities (2000); Backtracking (2004); KD a Jazz Biography (2012), a book entirely in rhyming quatrains; The Pilgrimage: Selected Poems, 1962-2012 (2013); The Cowtown Circle (2014); and Maria's Book (2016).

Oliphant has translated Chilean poets such as Enrique Lihn, Oliver Welden, and Nicanor Parra. His work as a translator includes Lihn’s Figures of Speech (1999; revised and expanded 2016); Love Hound (2006), his version of Welden's Perro de amor, which won the 2007 New York Book Festival poetry award; and Parra's Discursos de sobremesa, as After-Dinner Declarations (2011), which won the Texas Institute of Letters' Soeurette Diehl Fraser Translation Book Award.

He has edited three anthologies of Texas poets, including a bilingual English-Spanish anthology, Washing the Cow's Skull / Lavando la calavera de vaca (1981). His critical writings have been collected in two volumes: On a High Horse (1983) and Generations of Texas Poets (2015). Oliphant is also author of three studies of jazz: Texan Jazz (1996); The Early Swing Era, 1930 to 1941 (2002); and Jazz Mavericks of the Lone Star State (2007).

Oliphant worked at the University of Texas at Austin in various roles for 30 years until his retirement in 2006.