He was appointed the nineteenth Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 1968 to 1970.
William Jay Smith was born in Winnfield, Louisiana. He was brought up at Jefferson Barracks, Missouri, south of St. Louis.
Smith received his A.B. and M.A. from Washington University in St. Louis, and continued his studies at Columbia University, and Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar.
In 1947 he married the poet Barbara Howes, and they lived for a time in England and Italy.
They had two sons, David Smith, and Gregory. They divorced in the mid-1960s.
William Jay Smith was a poet in residence at Williams College from 1959–1967, taught at Columbia University from 1973 until 1975.
Smith serves as the Professor Emeritus of English literature at Hollins University.
As of 2008, he lived in houses located in both Cummington, Massachusetts, and Paris, France.
Smith is the author of ten collections of poetry of which two were finalists for the National Book Award.
Smith has been member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters since 1975.
Smith work has appeared in Harper’s Magazine, The New York Review of Books.