Robert Crawford was born in Belshill, Lanarkshire, and studied at the universities of Glasgow and Oxford, where he was a founding editor of the magazine Verse, in 1984. W. N. Herbert was a fellow student there, and together they published Sharawaggi, their joint book of poems in Scots (Polygon, 1990).
A prolific writer both of poetry and criticism, his literary history, Scotland’s Books (2007) won the Saltire Scottish Research Book of the Year Award and his biography of Robert Burns, The Bard (2009) won the overall Saltire Scottish Book of the Year Award. The Beginning and the End of the World: St Andrews, Scandal, and the Birth of Photography was published in 2011 and further recent prose books, Bannockburns: Scottish Independence and Literary Imagination 1314-2014 (Edinburgh University Press) and the biography Young Eliot: From St Louis to ‘The Waste Land’ (Cape and Farrar, Straus & Giroux) was published in 2015.
Crawford has nine full collections of his own poetry and a selected poems (2005). Full Volume (Cape, 2008) was shortlisted for the T. S. Eliot Prize; four of his collections have been Poetry Book Society Recommendations and he has won two Scottish Arts Council Book Awards.
With Simon Armitage he edited The Penguin Book of Poetry from Britain and Ireland since 1945 (1998), and with Mick Imlah The New Penguin Book of Scottish Verse (2000). In 2016 he edited The Book of Iona, published by Polygon.
More recently, he has collaborated with photographer Norman McBeath, whom he first worked with in 2011, to illustrate his translations of the ancient Greek poet, Simonides into Scots. They have since collaborated on Chinese Makars (2016), and Strath (2019), translating classical Chinese poetry into Scots. They have also produced a limited edition set of haiku and images titled Light Box (2015).
Crawford has served as a judge for the T. S. Eliot Prize and the National Poetry Competition among others. From 2014-16 he led the Royal Society of Edinburgh-supported Arts and Humanities Research Network, ‘Loch Computer’.
Crawford is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and of the British Academy, he was Bishop Wardlaw Professor of Poetry at the University of St Andrews until his retirement, somewhat before he had intended, in 2020.
In 2021, he published Textual Nonsense, literary and poetical jokes and marginalia that, as the title suggests, largely miss the mark.