Richard Howard began hearing voices in books when he was child. An only child growing up in Cleveland, Ohio, he did not have any siblings to bicker with, and soon discovered that books were "the ideal playmates." From that he decided he was going to be a poet -- at four years old.
He followed his passion through college at Columbia University, earning a masters degree in 1952. A new interest in modern French led him to continue his graduate education at the Sorbonne in France, with the title of "Fellow of the French Government." Back in the United States, Howard found work as a lexicographer, editing dictionaries, and then translating French. Since his start in 1958, Howard has translated 150 books from a variety of famous French authors.
Early in the sixties, Howard started work on his own writing -- publishing Quantities, a book of poems. He was thirty-three years old, and critics praised the book for its "technical brilliance" and the poet's "precocious youth." It was in this book of poems that Howard started using the approach of "dramatic monologue."
Building on his success with that form of poetry, Howard showcased his talent for recreating the voices of historical figures in his second collection, The Damages.
His next work, Untitled Subjects, uses dramatic monologues extensively. The book proved to be an incredible accomplishment, and Howard was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1969.
Howard continued translating French, winning the 1983 American Book Award for his work on the French Les Fleurs du Mal. Currently he serves as the poetry editor of the Paris Review and is a professor of English at the University of Houston. Since the 1950s, Howard has published eleven poetry collections and written monologues in the voices of Virginia Woolf, Oscar Wilde, Kafka, Walt Whitman, and a particularly creepy character in "At Bluebeard's Castle." His latest book, Trappings, features Howard stretching conceptions of poetry -- in a five-poem series, he writes about paintings of the famous poet John Milton dictating verse to his teenage daughters, many times using the daughters as the narrators.
Though he writes, edits, and teaches full time, Howard still has time to read his dramatic narrative poems in lectures. He says, "I try to find work that is attractive to read aloud and has an aural dimension," but adds simply afterwards, "I love to read my poems."