Born in Minneapolis, Minnesota in 1932, Grossman was educated at Harvard University, graduating with an MA in 1956 after several interruptions. He went on to receive a PhD from Brandeis University in 1960, where he remained a professor until 1991. In 1991 he became the Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities at The Johns Hopkins University where until 2005 he taught in the English Department, primarily focusing on poetry and poetics. He is now retired from teaching but continues to write.
Grossman's first marriage ended in divorce; he is currently married to novelist Judith Grossman. His children are Jonathan Grossman and Adam Grossman from the first marriage, and Bathsheba Grossman, Austin Grossman, and Lev Grossman from the second.
On November 11, 2006, on the occasion of his retirement, several friends, colleagues and students of Grossman held a joint reading in his honor. These included Michael Fried, Susan Howe, Ha Jin, Mark Halliday, Breyten Breytenbach, Susan Stewart, and Frank Bidart. The event culminated with a reading by Grossman of poetry from his latest book of poems, Descartes' Loneliness.
I'd like to crown him one of our great Low Moderns; he's Wallace Stevens with stronger stories to anchor lame minds such as my own; he's Eliot without footnotes. Like all great poets, he faithfully serves both word and world -- and us.
Here is the inevitable mix of everything Grossman can offer: a lyric tenderness, the weight of learning, and a strangeness matched only by poets now dead so long that it's hard to imagine resurrecting their prophetic energies in the language of twenty-first century America. Hard to imagine, except that by embracing what he once disdained as the "dreary language of carnal origin," this is exactly what Grossman has accomplished. "Weird river," says the rising sun as it weeps, "flow on."