The distinguished American poet Donald Justice was born August 12, 1925 in Miami, Florida, and grew up there. Son of an itinerant carpenter, Justice studied piano from an early age, and in his later poems described several of his music teachers, particularly Mrs. Snow who "loomed above us like an alp." He studied musical composition with Carl Ruggles at the University of Miami, and, after graduating with a degree in English (1945), attended the University of North Carolina, Stanford University, and the University of Iowa where he earned a Ph.D. At North Carolina, he met and married the writer Jean Ross. An exacting teacher, Justice taught at several colleges including Syracuse, Iowa, and the University of Florida, from which he retired in 1992.
Although he was an accomplished musician and painter, Justice chose a career in words. He excelled at traditional and experimental forms of poetry, particularly enjoying the sestina and repetitive forms. Recognized as one of the finest American poets of the twentieth century, Justice received many grants in poetry, including those from The Guggenheim Foundation, The Rockefeller Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts. The recipient of the Bolinger Award (1991), he also served as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets (1997-2003). He was nominated for the Poet Laureate in 2003, but his declining health forced him to decline.
Justice remarked that "one motive for much, if not all, art is to keep memorable what deserves to be remembered." He lived with his wife, Jean Ross, in Iowa City, Iowa until his death on August 6, 2004.