Poet and physician Rafael Campo was born in Dover, New Jersey, to a Cuban father and an Italian mother. Upon entering college at Amherst, he planned to become a doctor; however, he had been drawn to poetry since adolescence, and as an undergraduate, this interest was encouraged by his studies under early queer theorist Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick. In her poetry workshop, he finally found a space to express himself as a gay Latinx man. He received his BA and MA from Amherst, then attended Harvard Medical School. In the third year of the program, Campo suddenly doubted his choice and switched his focus to poetry, leaving for a creative writing master’s program at Boston University. He studied with Derek Walcott and Robert Pinsky for a year before returning to Harvard to complete his MD. Campo performed his medical residency in San Francisco, where the HIV/AIDS epidemic was in full swing. There, he attended the 1993 Gay Pride Parade, whose message of solidarity and hope brought new energy to his work as both doctor and poet.
In 1993, Campo’s first poetry collection, The Other Man Was Me: A Voyage to the New World, won the National Poetry Series Open Competition. Since then, he has published numerous other collections, including Comfort Measures Only: New and Selected Poems, 1994-2016 (Duke University Press, 2018); The Enemy (2007), recipient of the Sheila Motton Book Prize from the New England Poetry Club; Diva (1999), a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award; and What the Body Told (1996), winner of a Lambda Literary Award. Campo’s poetry has been selected for inclusion in the Best American Poetry and Pushcart Prize anthologies and has appeared in major journals and newspapers including the American Poetry Review, The New York Times Magazine, The Los Angeles Times, The Nation, The Boston Globe, The New Republic, Paris Review, Salon, Slate, and The Washington Post’s “Book World.” His poetry, which touches on topics of identity, family, health, and illness, has been translated into six languages. Campo is also the author of two prose books: The Poetry of Healing (1997), winner of a Lambda Literary Award in Memoir, and The Healing Art: A Doctor’s Black Bag of Poetry (2003).
A recipient of the Nicholas E. Davies Memorial Scholar Award from the American College of Physicians for outstanding humanism in medicine, Campo has served as a resident poet at Brandeis University and the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. His many honors include an honorary Doctor of Literature degree from Amherst College, the Hippocrates Open International Prize for Poetry and Medicine for original verse on a medical theme, the National Hispanic Academy of Arts and Sciences Annual Achievement Award, and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the Echoing Green Foundation. He lectures widely, appearing at venues such as the Folger Shakespeare Library, the Library of Congress, and the 92nd Street Y, and leads workshops related to medicine, writing, and culture.
Campo serves as the Director of Literature and Writing Programs of the Arts and Humanities Initiative at Harvard Medical School. He also practices internal medicine at both Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston and is the poetry editor for JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association. Campo often brings poetry into his work as a doctor, leading patients in poetry workshops and recommending poems as “prescriptions” to read.