Donald Andrew Hall, Jr., was born into a prosperous family and attended Philips Exeter Academy from 1944 to 1947 before entering Harvard University, where he received his A.B. in 1951. From there he went to Oxford University, where he received the B.Litt. in 1953, followed by further graduate work in 1953-1954 at Stanford University, where he was a Fellow in Creative Writing. From 1954 to 1957 he was a junior fellow in the Society of Fellows at Harvard, after which he joined the faculty of the University of Michigan. In 1975 he left the university to return to his family home at Sable Pond Farm in New Hampshire.
Before the appearance of his first volume of poetry, Hall received the Lloyd McKim Garrison Prize for poetry at Harvard in 1951, the John Osborne Sergeant Prize for Latin translation at Harvard in 1951, and the Newdigate Prize for poetry at Oxford in 1952. His initial volume of poems, Exiles and Marriages, earned him the Lamont Prize of the Academy of American Poets in 1955, as well as the Edna St. Vincent Millay Memorial Award, for the same year. Later he received a Guggenheim Fellowship, as well as a number of other awards for his poetry such as a Los Angeles Times Book Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the Robert Frost medal of the Poetry Society of America. At one time he was the state poet laureate of New Hampshire.
As a poet Hall wrote of a growing isolation from both humanity and the physical world. His poems reflect a regret for the past and a reluctance to praise the present, and in many he contemplates the problem of human freedom in the world. As a writer of prose Hall became one of the foremost men of letters in the U.S. in the late twentieth century. His essay collections include memoirs, interviews, critical studies of writers and artists, and commentaries on subjects ranging from literary history to sports. Hall’s children’s books include the best-selling The Ox-Cart Man, which won the Caldecott Medal.
Hall made his mark as an editor and critic as well as poet and teacher. During the years 1953-1961 he was poetry editor for the Paris Review; from 1958 to 1964 he was on the poetry board for Wesleyan University Press; and after 1964 he was a consultant for poetry with the publishing firm of Harper and Row. In 1967 he became one of the judges for the Lamont Poetry Competition, and his editions of contemporary poets came to be widely used in college classes and by general readers. He also served as general editor for the Poets on Poetry series put out by the University of Michigan Press, a series to which he himself contributed several volumes.