Poet, editor, and performer Kenward Elmslie was born in New York City and raised in Colorado Springs and Washington, DC. His father was a British businessman, and his mother was the daughter of newspaper magnate Joseph Pulitzer. Elmslie earned a BA at Harvard University before moving back to New York City, where he became a central figure in the New York School. As the editor of Z Magazine, Elmslie promoted the work of fellow New York School poets John Ashbery, Joe Brainard, Anne Waldman, James Schuyler, and others.
In his work, Elmslie often explores the intersection of experimental poetry and musical theater. In an interview with Jacket magazine, he described his writing as “a series of moves through mind, memory, time and space.” His numerous poetry collections include Pavilions (1961); Motor Disturbance (1971), which won the Frank O’Hara Award; and Routine Disruptions: Selected Poems & Lyrics (1998). Elmslie is also the author of The Orchid Stories (1973) and several opera librettos, including Lizzie Borden (1966), as well as the musicals The Grass Harp (1971), based on the novel by Truman Capote, and Postcards on Parade: A Musical Play (1993). In 2005, a selection of his poetry and lyrics was produced as Lingoland, a six-person off-Broadway revue.
Elmslie’s honors include a grant from the Ford Foundation, the Project for Innovative Poetry’s Gertrude Stein Award for Innovative Poetry, and an award from the National Council of the Arts.
Elmslie lives in Calais, Vermont, in a home he shared with his longtime partner and artistic collaborator, Joe Brainard. A selection of Elmslie’s papers is stored in the Mandeville Special Collections Library at the University of California San Diego.