David Lehman is a poet, writer, teacher, and editor. A New York native, the son of Holocaust refugees, he attended Stuyvesant High School and graduated magna cum laude from Columbia University. On a Kellett Fellowship, he studied at Clare College, Cambridge University, for two years, and spent shorter periods studying at Oxford and in Paris. As a graduate student at Columbia, he worked as Lionel Trilling’s research assistant. He received his PhD in English and comparative literature from Columbia in 1978, with a dissertation on the prose poem.
Lehman’s books of poetry include (in reverse chronological order) “Playlist” (Pittsburgh, 2019), “Poems in the Manner Of” (Scribner, 2017), “Yeshiva Boys,” “When a Woman Loves a Man,” “The Evening Sun,” “The Daily Mirror,” “Valentine Place,” “Operation Memory,” and “An Alternative to Speech.” He is the editor of “The Oxford Book of American Poetry” (2006), “Great American Prose Poems: From Poe to the Present,” “The Best American Erotic Poems,” and other collections.
He is completing a new collection of poems and a book on murder mysteries and film noir. His poems, stories, essays, and translations have appeared recently in The New Yorker, The Yale Review, The Atlantic, The Common, and The Hopkins Review.
In 1988 Lehman launched “The Best American Poetry,” which has become an annual rite of autumn. The choices for each year’s volume are made by a distinguished poet. The guest editors for the last five years are Edward Hirsch (2016), Natasha Trethewey (2017), Dana Gioia (2018), Major Jackson (2019), and Paisley Rekdal (2020). Others who have served in this role form an all-star team of American poets, including John Ashbery, Donald Hall, Jorie Graham, Mark Strand, Charles Simic, Louise Gluck, Adrienne Rich, John Hollander, Rita Dove, Robert Hass, Yusef Komunyakaa, Paul Muldoon, Heather McHugh, Amy Gerstler, Kevin Young, Denise Duhamel, and Terrance Hayes
The most recent of Lehman’s ten non-fiction books are “One Hundred Autobiographies: A Memoir” (Cornell UP, 2019), “Sinatra’s Century: One Hundred Notes on the Singer and His World” (HarperCollins, 2015) and “The State of the Art: A Chronicle of American Poetry, 1988-2014” (University of Pitsburgh Press, 2015). In 2010 his book “A Fine Romance: Jewish Songwriters, American Songs” (Random House / Schocken) won ASCAP’s Deems Taylor Award.
For many years Lehman earned his living as a freelance writer. He has contributed feature articles as well as book reviews to The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Newsweek, People, Newsday, The Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, the London Times Literary Supplement, American Heritage, and The American Scholar. He was a contributing editor of Partisan Review. While still a teenager, he began publishing poems in The Paris Review. In that magazine he has also published his translations of Charles Baudelaire’s prose poems and an interview with A. R. Ammons.
From 1996 until 2018 Lehman taught literature seminars and poetry workshops at the New School in New York City, where he directed the poetry division of the MFA writing program. An original faculty member of the Bennington Writing Seminars, he taught in the low-residency program from its inception in 1994 until 2005. For eleven years (1997-2008) he offered a course uncompromisingly called “Great Poems” for honors undergraduates at New York University. In 1994 he gave the Taft Lectures at ther University of Cincinnati and was that university’s Elliston Poet-in-Residence in 1995. In 1997 he and Star Black founded the influential KGB Bar Monday Night Poetry Reading Series in New York City.
In 1994 Lehman succeeded Donald Hall as the general editor of the University of Michigan Press’s “Poets in Poetry” and “Under Discussion” series. He served in this role for twelve years. He has lectured at many American universities and museums and in ten countries in Europe and Asia. His work has been translated into twelve languages.
As a contributing editor of “The American Scholar” Lehman writes a monthly column on classic film (“Talking Pictures”) and served as editor and quizmaster of the weekly “Next Line, Please” poetry challenges from 2014 until 2019. A book of the columns – including those edited by Angela Ball during summer 2015, when Lehman was incapacitated for medical reasons – was published by Cornell University Press in 2018 under the heading “Next Line Please: Prompts to Inspire Poets and Writers.”
Lehman divides his time between New York City and Ithaca, New York.