Professor Barnstone was born in Lewiston, Maine. He received a B.A. from Bowdoin College (1948), a M.A. from Columbia University (1956), and his Ph.D. from Yale University (1960). He taught in Greece at the end of the civil war (1949-51) and in Buenos Aires during the "Dirty War" (1975-76). He first went to China in 1972 during the Cultural Revolution and was later a Fulbright Professor of American Literature at Beijing Foreign Studies University (1984-85). Professor Barnstone has been a member of the IU faculty for 34 years and has published 46 different books. Among his published writings are books of poetry (more than a dozen of his own); translations (from Chinese, Spanish, French, Latin, ancient and modern Greek, and biblical Hebrew); memoirs; studies of non-standard religious texts; children's books; and songs.
He is affiliated with faculties of the IU departments of West European Studies, Latin American Studies, East Asian Languages and Cultures, and the Institute of Biblical and Literary Studies. His book, Borges on an Ordinary Evening in Buenos Aires, describes Barnstone's friendship with the well-known Argentine writer, the late Jorge Luis Borges. Barnstone has been a Pulitzer Prize Nominee twice. The first time was for his book, From This White Island, published in 1960. The second book nominated was China Poems, published in 1977. He is a Guggenheim Fellow, and a NEA and NEH recipient. Barnstone is now translating The New Testament from Greek. The book is a new translation, which reinterprets some of the passages.
Barnstone received the IU Bicentennial Medal in September 2020 in recognition of his distinguished contributions to Indiana University.