Jane Hirshfield was born in New York City and received her bachelor's degree from Princeton University in the school's first graduating class to include women. She later studied at the San Francisco Zen Center, including three years of monastic practice at Tassajara Zen Mountain Center. She received lay ordination in Soto Zen in 1979.
Hirshfield has worked as a freelance writer, editor, and translator. Her six books of poetry have each received numerous awards. Her fifth book, Given Sugar, Given Salt, was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and her sixth collection, After, was a finalist for England's T.S. Eliot Award and named a "best book of 2006" by The Washington Post, The San Francisco Chronicle, and England's Financial Times. Her book of essays, Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry is considered a classic in its field. The Ink Dark Moon, her co-translation of the work of the two foremost women poets of classical-era Japan, was instrumental in bringing tanka (a 31-syllable Japanese poetic form predating the better known haiku) to the attention of American poets, and her three edited books collecting the work of women poets from the past have become highly influential resources.
She has taught at the University of California, Berkeley, University of San Francisco, and as the Elliston Visiting Poet at the University of Cincinnati. She has also taught at many writers conferences, including Bread Loaf and The Napa Valley Writers Conference and has served as both core and associate faculty in the Bennington Master of Fine Arts Writing Seminars. Hirshfield appears frequently in literary festivals both in America and abroad, including the Geraldine Dodge Poetry Festival, the National Book Festival, the L.A. Times Festival of the Book, Poetry International (London, UK), the China Poetry Festival (Xi'an, China), and the Second International Gathering of the Poets [Krakow, Poland]. She is also a contributing editor at The Alaska Quarterly Review and Ploughshares and an advisory editor at Orion.
Hirshfield's work has been published in The New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, The Nation, the Los Angeles Times, the Times Literary Supplement, many literary journals, and multiple volumes of The Best American Poetry and Pushcart Prize anthologies. Her poems have frequently been read on various National Public Radio programs, and she was featured in two Bill Moyers PBS television specials, The Sounds of Poetry and Fooling With Words.