Charles Bernstein was born in New York City in 1950. He grew up in Manhattan’s West Side and attended the Bronx High School of Science. At Harvard College he studied the works of Ludwig Wittgenstein and J. L. Austin, among others with the pioneering language philosopher Stanley Cavell. He graduated in 1972 with an essay on the aesthetic and poetic options of a combination of analytical philosophy and avant-garde literature. The questions raised in this text can be read as the point of departure for Bernstein’s own poetic oeuvre.
Bernstein’s debut appeared in 1975 under the title »Asylums«. Together with Bruce Andrews, also a poet, he published »L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E« from 1978 until 1981. The pivotal magazine triggered the development of the avant-gardist movment of »language poetry« and sparked the fomation of a collective of poets including Susan Howe and Ron Silliman. In a total of 13 editions, Bernstein and Andrews published theoretical essays dealing with the political aspects of poetry or the oeuvre of Gertrude Stein and other topics, as well as experimental poems. In their reflections on and undermining of traditional forms and contents, and by intentionally blazoning the text as such, they played a major role in the development of poetic postmodernism. Bernstein has published further anthologies, including »Parsing« (1976), »Shade« (1978), »Poetic Justice« (1979) and »Controlling Interests« (1980). He was a lecturer at the State University of New York in Buffalo from 1989 to 2003, where he co-founded the »Electronic Poetry Center«, an online portal for digital poetry. Bernstein is also one of the founders of the audio archive »PennSound«, currently the vastest collection of poetry recordings, including historical poetry recitations by Ezra Pound, Wallace Stevens, William Carlos Williams, Allen Ginsberg and John Ashbery. He has also been a visiting professor at numerous universities.
Bernstein received the Roy Harvey Pearce / Archive for New Poetry Prize from the University of California in San Diego (1999) and other awards, and was appointed a Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2006. He has published more than forty books, including collections of poems, essays, pamphlets, translations and libretti. His works appeared in »Harper’s Magazine«, »Poetry Magazine«, the »New York Times Book Review« and W. J. T. Mitchell’s »Critical Inquiry«. His most recent anthologies of poetry are »All the Whiskey in Heaven« (2010) and the essay collection »Attack of the Difficult Poems« (2011). Both illustrate his versatility and avant-garde creative spirit. Bernstein lives in Philadelphia and holds a professorship for English at the University of Pennsylvania.