James Tate was born in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1943. He was the author of twelve collections of poetry including his first volume, The Lost Pilot, which was selected for the Yale Series of Younger Poets Award in 1967, The Oblivion Ha Ha (1970), Hints to Pilgrims (1971), Absences (1972), Viper Jazz (1976), Riven Doggeries (1979), Constant Defender (1983), Reckoner (1986) and Distance From Loved Ones (1990).
In 1992, Tate was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry and the William Carlos Williams Award for his Selected Poems (1991). His collection Worshipful Company of Fletchers (The Ecco Press, 1994) received the National Book Award for Poetry. Among his other awards are fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, and the National Institute for Arts and Letters Award for Poetry. He also received the $100,000 Tanning Prize for The Academy of American Poets in 1995.
The Ghost Soldiers, published in 2008, contains nearly 100 poems.
He has taught poetry at the University of California at Berkeley, Columbia University, and Emerson College. From 1971 he taught at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, which he continued to do until his death in 2015.