Elizabeth Alexander was born May 30, 1962, in the Harlem neighborhood of New York City, New York. She grew up in Washington, D.C., and has had a career both as a newspaper reporter and professor. She attended Yale University for her undergraduate degree, and went on to receive an MA degree from Boston University and a PhD in English from the University of Pennsylvania. She published her first collection of poetry, The Venus Hottentot, in 1990, a work that received immediate attention from reviewers. She published Body of Life in 1996, the same year that the production of her verse play, Diva Studies, premiered at the Yale School of Drama. In 2001, Alexander published Antebellum Dream, which was named by Village Voice as one of the twenty-five “Favorite Books of 2001.” She followed up with American Sublime in 2005 (Graywolf Press), earning a nomination for the Pulitzer Prize.
In addition to her own collections, Alexander’s poetry is featured in several anthologies, and her short stories and critical essays are included in various journals and periodicals. A collection of her essays was published in The Black Interior (Graywolf, 2004). The scope of her work is far-reaching, and includes topics from race and politics to gender and motherhood. Her collection of essays discusses African-American culture, and explores the roles of figures as varied as Gwendolyn Brooks, Langston Hughes, Denzel Washington and O. J. Simpson.
Elizabeth Alexander has taught at numerous universities and has received several honors and awards for her writing, including The Jackson Poetry Prize, a National Endowment of the Arts Fellowship, a Pushcart Prize, and George Kent Award. She has extensively traveled the United States, lecturing and giving poetry readings, and is currently a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University. In 2009, she was selected to read at the Inauguration of U.S. President Barack Obama.