James Cummins was born in Columbus, Ohio, and grew up in the Midwest, primarily in Cleveland and Indianapolis. He received a B.A. from the University of Cincinnati and an M.F.A. from the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop. His first book, The Whole Truth, was published by North Point Press in 1986, and his second, Portrait In A Spoon, by the University of South Carolina Press in 1997. The Whole Truth was reissued in the Carnegie-Mellon University Press "Classic Contemporary Series" in 2003. His third book, Then & Now, was published by Swallow Press (Ohio University Press) in 2004. A fourth book, Jim & Dave Defeat the Masked Man, co-authored with David Lehman and collecting all the sestinas written by the two poets, was published by Soft Skull Press in 2006.
Individual poems have appeared in journals such as The Paris Review, Partisan Review, Harper's, Ploughshares, The New Republic, Shenandoah, The Kenyon Review, Gulf Coast, LIT, and others. Awards for his work include a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, an Ingram Merrill grant, and fellowships from the Ohio Arts Council; in addition, his poems have been reprinted in The Best American Poetry anthologies for 1994, 1995, 1998, 2005, and 2009, The Oxford Book of American Poetry (Oxford University Press, 2006), and 180 More, edited by former poet laureate, Billy Collins. Cummins has been curator of the Elliston Poetry Collection at the University of Cincinnati since 1975, where he is also Professor of English. He lives in Cincinnati with his wife, Maureen Bloomfield, a poet and art critic, and their two daughters, Katherine and Margaret.