Pau-Llosa was born into a working-class family in Havana. In 1960 Pau-Llosa fled Cuba with his parents, older sister, and maternal grandmother — all of whom emerge in his autobiographical poems of exile and remembrance. He earned a BA and MA from Florida International University, Florida Atlantic University, and an MA from the University of Florida. He is the author of the poetry collections Sorting Metaphors (1983), winner of the first national Anhinga Prize; Bread of the Imagined (1992); Cuba (1993), nominated for the Pulitzer Prize; Mastery Impulse (2003); and Parable Hunter (2008).