Ron Padgett (born June 17, 1942, Tulsa, Oklahoma) is an American poet, essayist, fiction writer, translator, and a member of the New York School. He won a 2009 Shelley Memorial Award. In 2018, he won the Frost Medal from the Poetry Society of America.
Padgett’s father was a bootlegger in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He influenced many of Padgett’s works, particularly in the writer’s taste for independence and a willingness to deviate from rules, even his own. This would later be described as a stubborn streak of boyishness, allowing a wry innocence in his poetry.
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Padgett started writing poetry at the age of 13. In an interview, the poet said that he was inspired to write when a girl he had a big crush on did not return his affection. In high school, Padgett became interested in visual arts while continuing to write poetry. He befriended Joe Brainard, the visual artist who also became a well-known writer. They, with fellow Central High student Dick Gallup, co-founded the avant-garde literary journal The White Dove Review. Padgett and Gallup solicited work for The White Dove from Black Mountain and Beat Movement writers such as Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, LeRoi Jones, Paul Blackburn, Gilbert Sorrentino, and Robert Creeley. After five issues, Padgett, on his way to college, retired The White Dove Review.
In 1960, Padgett left Tulsa to study at Columbia College in New York City. At the time he was interested in Pound, Rimbaud, the Black Mountain poets, and the Beats but soon he fell under the spell of the New York School, particularly the poetry of Frank O’Hara, John Ashbery, James Schuyler, and Kenneth Koch. In an interview, Padgett said that he went to Columbia partly because Ginsberg and Kerouac had gone there. After receiving his B.A. (1964), Padgett briefly studied creative writing at Wagner College with Kay Boyle, Howard Nemerov, and Koch. On a Fulbright Fellowship (Paris, 1965–66) he studied 20th-century French poetry.
From 1968 to 1969 Padgett was a workshop leader for The Poetry Project at St. Mark’s Church in-the-Bowery in New York City. With David Shapiro, Padgett co-edited An Anthology of New York Poets, published by Random House in 1970. He founded The Poetry Project Newsletter in 1972. Padgett also worked in poet-in-the-school programs nationally from 1969 to 1976. After directing The Poetry Project for two and a half years, he became the publications director of Teachers & Writers Collaborative (1980-2000), where he also edited The Teachers & Writers Collaborative Newsletter.
Padgett was a cofounder, publisher, and editor of Full Court Press from 1973 to 1988, bringing out books by Ginsberg, Brainard, O’Hara, Edwin Denby, Tom Veitch, William S. Burroughs, Larry Fagin, Philippe Soupault, John Godfrey, and others. At the same time, he lectured and taught at educational institutions, including Atlantic Center for the Arts, Brooklyn College, and Columbia University. Padgett’s papers are held by the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University.
Padgett collaborated with poet Ted Berrigan and artists Jim Dine, George Schneeman, Bertrand Dorny, Trevor Winkfield, and Alex Katz, along with Joe Brainard.
Padgett also translated French poets Blaise Cendrars, Max Jacob, Pierre Reverdy, Valery Larbaud, and Guillaume Apollinaire.