Christopher Gilbert was born in Birmingham, Alabama, and raised in Lansing, Michigan. He earned a BA from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, in 1972, and later obtained a PhD in psychology from Clark University in Massachusetts in 1986.
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Gilbert soon became a prominent figure in the Boston and Cambridge poetry circles, participating in the Free People's Poetry Workshops, created by poet Etheridge Knight. His poetry collection Across the Mutual Landscape (1984) received the 1983 Walt Whitman Prize from the Academy of American Poets, gaining him further recognition. Alan Williamson, in a review of Across the Mutual Landscape for the New York Times, described Gilbert as a "careful, craftsmanly writer." Williamson also noted how Gilbert's "subtle, syncopated rhythms made one think of jazz; but the syncopation is made audible, often, by the underlying presence of meter," revealing his many musical influences.
His other awards included the Robert Frost Award and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Massachusetts Artists Foundation, and his poems appeared in publications such as the African American Literary Review, Callaloo, Crab Apple Review, Graham House Review, Indiana Review, Massachusetts Review, and Ploughshares.
Gilbert died in 2007.