Donald Justice was born August 12, 1925, in Miami, Florida. He received his BA from the University of Miami (1945), an MA in English from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill (1947), and a PhD from the Writer’s Workshop at the University of Iowa (1954). He married Jean Ross in 1947, and they raised one son together. He studied under Robert Lowell at Iowa and spent most of his life as either student, writer, or teacher. Justice was a professor at the University of Iowa, Syracuse University, University of California, Princeton University and University of Virginia, among others. He taught at University of Florida from 1982 until his retirement in 1992.
Quiet and understated, he is known as a subtle poet with a reverence for traditional styles and forms. Though very economical in his publishing career—he only published a handful of collections—critics have praised his attention to detail and command of meter and structure. He published his first collection, The Summer Anniversaries, in 1960, for which he won the Lamont Poetry Selection. Experimenting with various forms, the volume includes sestinas, villanelles and other traditional poetic styles. Justice published Night Light (1967) and Departures (1973) before releasing his Selected Poems in 1979, winning the Pulitzer Prize. He also published The Sunset Maker in 1987, and New and Selected Poems in 1995. In addition to his Pulitzer Prize, Justice won the Bollingen Prize in Poetry in 1991, along with grants from the Guggenheim and Rockefeller Foundations, and the National Endowment for the Arts. He died August 6, 2004.