Barks is a native of Chattanooga, Tennessee. He attended the University of North Carolina and the University of California, Berkeley. Barks taught literature at the University of Georgia for three decades. He currently lives in Athens, Georgia, where he interprets the writings of Rumi and composes poetry of his own.
Barks makes frequent international appearances and is well-known throughout the Middle East. Barks' work has contributed to an extremely strong following of Rumi in the English-speaking world. Due to his work, the ideas of Sufism have crossed many cultural boundaries over the past few decades. Coleman Barks received an honorary doctorate from Tehran University in 2006.
He has also read his original poetry at the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival.
In March 2009 Barks was inducted to the Georgia Writers' Hall of Fame.
Barks has published several volumes of Rumi's poetry since 1976, including The Hand of Poetry, Five Mystic Poets of Persia in 1993, The Essential Rumi in 1995 and The Book of Love in 2003.
Barks does not speak Persian, but bases his translations entirely on other English translations of Rumi. This includes translations by John Moyne. In addition, while the original Persian poetry of Rumi is heavily rhymed and metered, Barks has used primarily free verse. In some instances, he will also mix lines and metaphors from different poems into one 'translation'.
Barks has published several volumes of his own poetry, including Gourd Seed, Tentmaking, and, in 2001, Granddaughter Poems, a collection of Coleman's poetry about his granddaughter, Briny Barks, with illustrations by Briny. Harper published his first book of poetry, The Juice, in 1972.
1. What Was Told2. The Death of Saladin3. The Indian Tree Bone Song4. Sitting Together5. The Source of Joy and Roses Underfoot6. Amazed Mouth7. The Music We Are8. Green Meadows9. Like Light Over The Plain10. Some Kiss11. The Road Home12. A Cap13. Walnuts14. There You Are15. On The Day I Die16. School Mosque Minaret17. Looking Into The Creek18. This is Enough19. Three Travellers20. The Soul's Friend21. Mounted Man22. Shadow and Light Source Both23. Now Lay Me Down24. One Swaying Being
1. I Have Five Things to Say2. Bowl3. Buoyancy4. Listening5. I Met One Traveling6. Soul, Heart, And Body One Morning7. Most Alive Moment8. Sufi Masters9. Milk of Millennia10. Wax11. Wean Yourself12. Quietness13. This World Which Is Made of Our Love for Emptiness14. God in the Stew15. Locked out of Life16. Tender Agony17. No Room for Form