Donald Britton was born in Texas and earned his BA and MA at the University of Texas. He went on to earn a PhD from American University before moving to New York City in the late 1970s. In New York, he became part of a circle of gay avant-garde poets and artists that included Tim Dlugos, Dennis Cooper, Brad Gooch, and Joe Brainard, among others. Britton published one book of poetry in his lifetime, Italy (1981). Plans to publish a second collection were stalled, and Britton moved to Los Angeles in the late 1980s. He died of complications from AIDS in 1994. He was survived by his partner, David Cobb Craig.

Britton was influenced by predecessor poets such as John Ashbery and Hart Crane; his poetry explores intimacy, mental states, and the self. In the words of the late Reginald Shepherd, Britton’s poems possess “a verbal glamour the more enchanting for its modesty.” Britton’s work was featured in the anthologies The Son of the Male Muse (1983), Ecstatic Occasions, Expedient Forms (1987), and Persistent Voices: Poetry by Writers Lost to AIDS (2009). A second volume was published posthumously: In the Empire of the Air (2016), edited by Reginald Shepherd and Philip Clark.